Healthy and loose soil is an unquestionable necessity in any garden. Unfortunately, transforming hard, compacted soil into the growing environment plants crave can require a lot of manual effort—especially if it’s a brand-new plot that’s never been graced by a gardener’s loving touch. That is, unless you use a rototiller.
A rototiller uses a series of blades to loosen and aerate hard soil, allowing for proper drainage to maintain adequate moisture and keep plants hydrated. These garden tools also create a favorable environment for symbiotic organisms like beneficial bacteria and worms.
Also known as a garden tiller or cultivator (though the latter term may convey a more light-duty device), these tools can be used to break up soil for a new garden bed or for shallow cultivation and weed prevention around growing plants. Powered tillers often serve for seasonal soil preparation, mixing in soil amendments like fertilizer and weed control.
Considering the various sizes, features, and prices of these tools—as well as their quality and dependability—we opted to put a number of different popular products through their paces. We tested the following garden tillers to learn more about their ability to prepare and maintain garden beds. Read on to understand the criteria we used to select these products, and then check out our reviews to find how they performed and why we counted them among the best electric tillers.
- BEST OVERALL: Greenworks 40V 10″ Cordless Cultivator/Tiller
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Sun Joe TJ602E Electric Garden Tiller/Cultivator
- BEST CORDLESS: Sun Joe 24V-X2-TLR14 Garden Tiller/Cultivator
- BEST MINI: Black+Decker 20V MAX Cordless Garden Cultivator
- BEST CULTIVATOR: Sun Joe 24V-TLR-LTE Cordless Garden Tiller
- BEST HEAVY-DUTY: Earthwise TC70016 Corded Electric Tiller/Cultivator
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Electric Tiller
There’s no one-size-fits-all garden tiller for every type of garden. Several factors may affect the overall performance of an electric tiller. A tiller’s size, power and speed capabilities, power source, and ease of use, among other factors, play a big part in how well it operates in certain conditions. Keep the following considerations in mind when choosing from the best electric tillers.
Corded vs. Cordless
Electric garden tillers come in both corded and cordless (battery-powered) models. The more common corded tillers beat their battery-powered counterparts in price and power. They also offer virtually unlimited runtime, unlike cordless tillers whose runtimes depend on battery capacity. But corded tillers only cover as much ground as the power cord can reach, and dragging a cumbersome electrical cord around the garden can be inconvenient and a safety hazard.
To address these limitations, retention hooks on corded tillers keep the cord away from the machine’s wheels and blades. Still, cordless tillers offer unbeatable portability and maneuverability. These models usually have runtimes between 30 and 60 minutes, but gardeners can extend that by keeping a few spare batteries on hand.
On a garden tiller, a set of blades, or rotating tines, churns the soil. While tillers may include two, four, or six individual tines, most models have four tines, either at the rear of the tool, on the front, or in the center, directly under the motor.
- Rear-tine tillers usually pack the most power and can cut deep into soil. This makes them the ideal choice for heavier and more compacted soils.
- Front-tine tillers, the most common type, bring less power than rear-tine options, but that reduction in power tends to make them easier to push and maneuver.
- Mid-tine tillers offer a combination of the power of a rear-tine tiller and the ease of use of a front-tine tiller, which makes them a popular general-purpose option. However, mid-tine electric tillers are rare.
A tiller’s size refers to the cutting tines’ width and their depth of penetration into the ground. As a general rule, the wider the tiller, the fewer passes you’ll need to make to till the desired area of soil. The size of the tines determines the maximum depth a tiller can penetrate into the soil. Larger tines go deeper into the soil but tend to make the gardening tool more difficult to maneuver.
The width of electric tillers’ cutting tines typically runs between 6 and 20 inches. Some models include adjustable tines to manipulate the width, which makes the tiller more versatile. Although wider tillers cover more ground, the bulkier size makes them more difficult to maneuver in small and narrow spaces. Narrower tillers work well in raised beds and between rows of plants.
An electric tiller’s maximum working depth typically falls between 6 and 8 inches, with greater depths more suitable for breaking ground. Shallower depths help with seasonal soil maintenance and garden preparation in ground that has been previously tilled to greater depths.
Power and Speed
An electric tiller’s power is measured in amps for corded tillers and volts for cordless ones. Corded tillers usually have power ratings between 2.5 and 14 amps, and cordless tillers usually carry ratings of 20 or 40 volts. Naturally, larger tillers require more power to accommodate the greater demand.
An electric tiller’s speed is determined by how many revolutions per minute (RPM) the tines make when tilling the soil. Tines churn the soil fastest and most effectively at higher RPMs. An electric tiller’s tines can turn at rates of 150 to 400 RPM, but 150 usually isn’t enough. Most soil types need at least 180 RPM to reap the full benefits of tilling.
Ease of Use
Naturally, a larger and heavier tiller will be more difficult and cumbersome to use than a smaller and lighter tiller. Larger tillers cover more ground more quickly, but they require more effort on the part of the gardener to do so. A tiller with adjustable tines lets gardeners find the ideal middle ground between performance and ease of use.
Many of the best electric tillers include sturdy wheels that help them move with greater ease over hard surfaces. They may also include ergonomic handles to make extended use more comfortable. Some tillers also feature adjustable handles that allow users of various heights to extend or retract the handles to the most comfortable length. Collapsible handles make the tiller easier to store when not in use.
Any piece of equipment with exposed, fast-spinning blades requires special safety considerations. To minimize the risk of injury, look for an electric tiller with safety features that include a push-button motor start as well as metal guards behind the tines, which prevent rocks and other potential projectiles from hitting the user.
Keep the following safety tips in mind when preparing the area for tilling and operating the tool:
- Read the provided user manual to become familiar with all the controls and operating procedures before using the tiller for the first time.
- Make sure you know how to quickly shut the motor off in case of an emergency.
- Wear the appropriate safety gear when operating a tiller, including safety glasses, proper footwear (closed-toe and nonslip), long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and earplugs.
- Before tilling the soil, remove stones, sticks, and other foreign objects from its path.
- Be mindful of any gas, electric, or water lines that might be buried in the area to avoid damaging them.
Our Top Picks
Find out more about the tillers we tested, including how each one performed in the garden. Together, these curated picks meet practically any gardener’s tilling needs.
While corded tillers offer plenty of advantages, the cord can get in the way during operation and limit gardeners who need to work 100 feet or more from an electrical outlet. Greenworks’ cordless cultivator makes a great alternative to plugging in. A 40-volt rechargeable lithium battery powers four tines that till to a depth of 5 inches and a max width of 10 inches. At a small size and a relatively light weight of 21 pounds, it’s a good choice for smaller gardens, as well as gardeners who want a compact, lightweight tool that is easy to operate and store. The tiller will run for up to 40 minutes on a single charge and takes about 2 hours to recharge.
We were impressed that this battery tiller proved as effective as the corded models we tested. It was fast and aggressive, even in our hard-packed garden paths and clay-based soil. The padded hand grip was comfortable and made it easy to control the machine. The startup process requires moving one hand off the grip to press a start button and pull a lever, so we appreciated the 1-second delay that lets the user get both hands set before the tines begin turning. Also, this tiller can be configured with two or four tines, which changes the tilling width from 8.25 inches for close cultivation to 10 inches for general tilling. Powerful, easy to use, and compact enough for storage in tight quarters, this compact tiller could be useful for a wide range of users.
- Power source: One 40V lithium-ion rechargeable battery
- Tilling width: 10 inches
- Weight: 21 pounds
- Cordless freedom of movement
- Lightweight, easy to carry and store
- Comfortable padded grip
- Adjustable width, 10 or 8.25 inches
- 2 hours to recharge the battery
Get the Greenworks electric tiller on Amazon or at Northern Tool & Equipment.
Sun Joe’s corded electric tiller employs an 8-amp motor for maximum performance. This 12-inch tiller digs up to 8 inches into the soil. Gardeners can adjust the height of the three-position adjustable wheels to till at shallower depths. The two rugged wheels facilitate movement to and from the garden and the garage or shed.
Testing this small yet mighty tiller reminded us of how good corded electric garden equipment can be. It delivered clean, quiet, powerful operation, matching the performance of our Best Overall pick but with limitless runtime and at less than half the price. Although it doesn’t have the free-ranging functionality of a cordless model, it absolutely held its own when it came to grinding up weeds and preparing heavy soil.
On the downside, the poorly padded handle wasn’t as comfortable for extended use as we would have liked. But the handle is collapsible for easy storage when not in use. Those on a budget who don’t mind working with an extension cord may find this Sun Joe model an excellent option.
- Power source: Corded 8-amp electric motor
- Tilling width: 12 inches
- Weight: 23.15 pounds
- Unlimited runtime
- Good power for heavy soil conditions
- Excellent value for the price
- Operation limited by extension cord length
- Handle not well padded
Get the Sun Joe TJ602E electric tiller at Amazon, The Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Tractor Supply Co..
Powered by dual 24V rechargeable batteries, this Sun Joe tiller delivers strong 48V performance with quick recharge time. It tills a 14-inch swath, up to 7 inches deep, with adjustable wheels that help increase or decrease tilling depth. The included dual-port battery charger lets you power up both batteries at the same time in just 55 minutes. One-handed start-stop control improves safety.
A handlebar-style grip with trigger activation makes this tiller easy to control, while the wide grips offer improved stability. We really liked the unique hand grip configuration. It reduced the likelihood of the tiller bouncing across hard-packed, unbroken ground and afforded better directional control compared with the loop handles on the other tillers we tested. Also, the start/stop trigger allowed us to have both hands securely in place when the tines began to turn. The 14-inch-wide tilling swath and the heavier weight worked effectively tilling open ground and weeding garden pathways. This is a good choice for bed preparation and maintaining wide areas.
- Power source: Two 24V lithium-ion rechargeable batteries
- Tilling width: 14 inches
- Weight: 33 pounds
- Free-ranging functionality
- 500-watt brushless motor
- Excellent control and maneuverability
- Batteries recharge in just 55 minutes
- Limited to 35 minutes of runtime per charge
Get the Sun Joe 24V-X2-TLR14 electric tiller at Amazon, The Home Depot, Best Buy, or Gardener’s Supply Co.
With its small profile and user-friendly design, this compact tiller from Black+Decker makes a great tool for a small garden or for tilling around plants. A 20-volt battery powers small sets of tines that oscillate to loosen soil or chop up weeds. It comes with two batteries, each of which tills up to 325 square feet on a single charge.
Two main attributes stood out to us about the Black+Decker 20V light-duty cultivator. First, its lightweight, balanced design virtually eliminates user fatigue. Secondly, its uniquely designed tines spin on a vertical axis, like egg beaters, instead of on a horizontal shaft like other tiller tines. This tool essentially stirs the soil to remove weeds and break up the crusted surface.
It works great, but the runtime is short at about 20 minutes per charge. It takes a whopping 8 hours to recharge, so consider buying an additional battery for extended use. Some gardeners may find this mini model a great way to quickly reduce weed pressure among garden seedlings.
- Power source: 20V lithium-ion rechargeable battery
- Tilling width: 7 inches
- Weight: 11.73 pounds
- Lightweight and easy to use
- Gentle stirring action cultivates soil and reduces weed pressure
- Budget-friendly price
- Short runtime per charge
- 8-hour recharge time
Get the Black+Decker electric tiller at Amazon, The Home Depot, or Acme Tools.
While this Sun Joe’s cordless model’s smaller size and lower power rating serve best for cultivating and power weeding, the tool also capably tills small sections of soil.
It employs a 24V rechargeable lithium-ion battery to cultivate a path 4.1 inches wide and 6 inches deep. A telescoping shaft adjusts the length of the ergonomic handle for comfortable operation. The machine doesn’t have wheels, but the lightweight body makes it easy to handle with minimal effort.
In our garden tests, this 24V Sun Joe handheld tiller proved more capable overall than the Black+Decker 20V. It did a great job tilling up small spaces, including ripping out weeds from the hard-packed pathways. The battery delivered a runtime of about 30 minutes per charge and recharged in under 1.5 hours with the included charger. With a weight of just 6.2 pounds, a compact storage size, and versatile capability, this would be an easy tool to keep around for quick maintenance tasks.
- Power source: 24V lithium-ion rechargeable battery
- Tilling width: 4.1 inches
- Weight: 6.2 pounds
- Very lightweight and easy to operate
- Runs 30 minutes per charge
- Recharges in less than an hour and a half
- Great for light tilling and power weeding
- Not suitable for tilling large areas
Get the Sun Joe 24V-TLR-LTE electric tiller at The Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Tractor Supply Co..
Those with medium-size and larger gardens need a bigger, more powerful tool to prepare the soil quickly and efficiently. The Earthwise 16-inch tiller/cultivator could be just the tool for the job. It features a powerful 13.5-amp corded electric motor and six steel tines that till a 16-inch-wide swath 8 inches deep. This is an excellent choice for breaking new ground, especially in heavy clay-based soils. The ergonomic padded handle reduces vibration and eliminates slippage for more comfortable operation. At 29.1 pounds, this was the one of the heaviest tillers we tested, and the added weight helped it to power through the tougher areas smoothly. The ergonomic handle design allowed us to change up our grip to a more comfortable angle as needed.
We felt that this would make a great tool for a gardener who mainly intends to use it for bed preparation and pathway maintenance. However, we did notice some performance issues. Its significant size and weight advantage over most of the other tested models led us to increase the workload on the Earthwise to include an area with tall, coarse weeds—but unfortunately, the tines promptly became clogged with thick roots and vegetation. We also followed the manufacturer’s instructions and adjusted the tilling width down to 11 inches by removing the outer tines. While this allowed access to narrower spaces, a tine shield partially obscured the view of the soil.
- Power source: Corded 13.5-amp electric motor
- Tilling width: 16 inches
- Weight: 29.1 pounds
- Tills a swath up to 16 inches wide and 8 inches deep
- Powerful 13.5-amp motor
- Unlimited runtime
- Budget friendly
- Too large for cultivation in tightly planted areas
Get the Earthwise electric tiller on Amazon or at Lowe’s.
Lots of people have become accustomed to the free range of movement associated with battery-powered tools, but some of these tools sacrifice power and/or runtime to provide that convenience. We believe the Greenworks 40V 10” Cordless Cultivator/Tiller delivers the best of both worlds: freedom of movement along with the digging power and battery life needed for light- and medium-duty tilling. Shoppers who need strong performance and don’t mind working with a power cord can get that at a great price in the Sun Joe TJ602E Electric Garden Tiller/Cultivator.
How We Tested the Best Electric Tillers
We tested three types of electric tillers: both corded and cordless tiller/cultivators with wheels and cordless handheld cultivators. While they are all designed to do the same basic thing—i.e., turn garden soil—each type includes unique features designed to solve specific garden problems. As such, we set up our garden test site to evaluate basic functionality and specialized features.
Electric tillers are used to break up soil for planting and for weed control. We tested each electric tiller/cultivator in three areas: previously unbroken clay-based soil, established garden beds, and a weedy garden pathway. We also used the handheld types to cultivate and weed among seedlings in a recently planted garden patch.
In the wheeled tillers, we were looking primarily for the ability to break up hard soil. Bonus points were given for smooth operation, easy control, and operator comfort. The lightweight handheld cultivators are designed for light-duty tilling of existing beds and weeding among garden plants. We assessed them for ease of use, a high level of control, and a well-balanced design for operator comfort.
Still want more info about electric tillers? Discover answers to several of the most frequently asked questions below.
Q. What is the difference between a tiller and a cultivator?
Cultivators, usually smaller than tillers, are primarily designed to mix and loosen shallow sections of soil that have been tilled previously. Tillers, on the other hand, break up larger sections of harder soil. Tillers aid in creating new garden beds, while cultivators help prepare existing beds for planting.
Q. What is a tiller’s tilling capacity?
The tilling capacity of an electric garden tiller refers to how deep and wide it can till. It’s a measure of the tiller’s width, depth, and power rating.
Q. Can you use a tiller to remove grass?
It’s not the best choice because it cannot get the entire job done. Ideally, to remove established lawn grass, rent a sod cutter for large areas, or for smaller portions of grass, use a garden spade to slice the roots beneath the surface. A heavy-duty gas-powered tiller can partially remove grass by freeing the roots from the soil and breaking large sections of sod into smaller chunks. Unfortunately, you’ll still have to remove the smaller chunks with a rake or a shovel.
Q. Do I push or pull a tiller?
Walk-behind tillers, both electric and gas, are designed to work in a forward direction. Attempting to pull them backward can lead to injury. The forward rotation of the tines usually provides adequate forward momentum, so it is normally not necessary to push the machine. Depending on soil conditions, it may be necessary to rock the machine forward or hold back on forward momentum for best results.
Q. What is the best mini tiller?
One of the best options is the Black+Decker 20V Max Cordless Garden Cultivator, which weighs under 12 pounds and reaches a tilling width of up to 7 inches.
Q. What is the most powerful electric tiller?
With its large 13.5-amp motor, the Earthwise TC70016 Corded Electric Tiller/Cultivator is one of the most powerful models on the market.