The Best Rototillers for Lawn and Garden Care

The key to growing food or flowers lies beneath the ground. A rototiller can help you prepare or improve the soil to give your plants their best shot at good growth. These best rototiller recommendations will suit just about any soil situation.

BobVila.com and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.

Best Tiller

Photo: depositphotos.com

Few gardeners are blessed with the loose, loamy soil that plants love. For those who must break through heavy clay or fix poorly drained soil, using a tiller can be the first step towards preparing soil of the best tillers is the first step on the path to a lovely, bountiful garden.

Planting in compacted soil is like trying to swim while wearing cement shoes. As the lifeblood of every landscape, the soil is the first consideration, and tilling is the best way to loosen compacted soil. Heavily trafficked areas and those with hard soil, often indicated in areas where rain pools and is slow to drain, are great candidates for tilling.

Tilling heavy soil can be backbreaking work if you try it by hand with a shovel. But it doesn’t have to be tough with the best rototiller for the job. These mechanized tillers dig deeply into the soil, 8 to 10 inches and sometimes deeper for new beds, breaking up compacted or rocky soil. They make it easier to work in soil amendments like compost and fertilizer and help aerate the soil and increase permeability. All of this boosts the growth of beneficial soil organisms in the soil, translating to a better growing experience—and a healthier back, too!

Tillers are an invaluable tool for making soil workable and transforming a landscape, but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all. This guide highlights the important features like sizes, engines, and tine options to help you choose the best rototiller for the job.

  1. BEST OVERALL: Earthwise 11-Inch 8.5-Amp Corded Electric Tiller/Cultivator
  2. RUNNER-UP: Sun Joe 16-Inch 13.5 AMP Electric Tiller
  3. LIGHT-DUTY PICK: BLACK+DECKER 20V MAX Tiller
Best Tiller

Photo: depositphotos.com

Tiller vs. Cultivator

Though often used interchangeably, the meanings of these terms differ.

  • Cultivators are best used in existing beds to loosen the top few inches of soil and break up the crust that results from the impact of rain on exposed soil. The crust prevents air, water, and nutrients from reaching plant roots and beneficial soil organisms. Furthermore, a loose soil surface makes it easier for germinated seeds to penetrate through the soil as they reach for sunlight. Cultivators also work well to uproot weeds around existing plantings or before planting a vegetable or flower bed.
  • Tillers, on the other hand, work best in areas requiring more muscle, like new beds that need improved airflow and water permeability. Rototiller tines dig deeply to turn the soil over, sometimes requiring several passes over the bed to break down heavy clods of soil into a workable substrate. If you use a tiller in a densely planted landscape bed, you can do more harm than good by damaging the root systems of existing plants. Furthermore, digging too deeply in an established bed destroys developing soil structure and displaces worms and other beneficial soil organisms.
  • Tiller/cultivator combinations offer the benefits of both tools with the option to adjust digging depth of the tines on some models, while wheeled combos require that you tilt the machine forward or backward to adjust depth.

Key Shopping Considerations

There are a few shopping considerations to keep in mind when looking for the perfect rototiller to do the job. Be sure to think about the type of tine, the power source, size, and portability to ensure the right choice for you and your needs.

Front Tine vs. Rear Tine vs. Vertical Tine

The location of the tines makes a difference in how soil is tilled.

  • Front-tine tillers have forward rotating tines located in the front with small wheels positioned behind the tines. These tillers typically don’t reach deeply and are best for use in existing beds that require light cultivation for weeding or adding soil amendments.
  • Rear-tine tillers have large wheels positioned in front of the tines and are ideal for new beds or heavily compacted soil where the tines can dig deeply, lifting clay and rock with each pass. Vertical-tine tillers offer the best of both worlds. The churning action of the tines, much like an egg beater, uses a forward motion to cut through and stir the soil.
  • Unlike rear-tine machines that require several passes to break and then mix the soil, vertical-tine tillers do it all with one pass and can help gardeners create new beds or cultivate existing ones.

Power Source

The best tiller will have an engine that supports accomplishing your landscaping goals. For existing beds that require some moderate cultivation, an electric tiller will likely suit the bill. These tillers tend to be less powerful than their gas-powered cousins, but they’re often lighter in weight and more compact. For cutting new beds and working in compacted soil, a gas-powered tiller is the way to go.

Unlike electric tillers, the heavier and often bigger gas-powered tillers have unlimited strength and run on 2-cycle or 4-cycle engines. Though cheaper, 2-cycle engines require a mixture of oil and gasoline to operate. Four-cycle engines run on gas alone, which makes them cleaner and more environmentally friendly than 2-cycle engines.

Size

The wider the tiller, the more ground it can cover, and that means fewer passes across the bed to till the soil to the desired crumble and depth. This convenience, however, comes with a price. Large tillers often are heavier and more difficult to maneuver in small beds. Electric tillers, while lighter, lack the power to turn heavy soil but till well in new beds where soil works easily. Consider a mini-tiller for small gardens, less than 1,500 square feet, with loose soil. A 5- or 6-horsepower tiller will handle a medium-sized garden. Large gardens over 5,000 square feet or those with heavily compacted soil will benefit from the added power of a tiller with a 6-horsepower engine or higher.

Portability

As tillers go up in size, they also become more cumbersome and can be tough to operate in tight spots. For this reason, some tillers offer adjustable-height handles for maximum operating comfort or folding handles that make them easier to store. Many buyers value both power and portability in tillers, but like most things, increased size means increased weight. For this reason, the best tiller should be big enough only to handle the task at hand. Otherwise, you could face operating and storing challenges.

Our Top Picks

Digging heavy soil is physically demanding work, but the best rototiller will turn the most compacted soil into a crumbly, plant-friendly oasis in a short time. Check out our choices for tillers that made the cut.

Best Tiller Earthwise

Photo: amazon.com

1. BEST OVERALL: Earthwise 11-Inch 8.5-Amp Corded Electric Tiller/Cultivator

This lightweight corded machine packs a lot of power and it can dig into hard clay with relative ease. Six steel tines dig up to 8 inches and tills in widths of 11 inches, making it a good fit for average-size gardens. With a quick push of the start button, this front-tine tiller is ready to work, while a conveniently located safety switch makes for a fast shutdown. The handle includes ergonomic grips for maximum comfort and folds for compact storage.

Best Tiller Sun Joe

Photo: amazon.com

2. RUNNER-UP: Sun Joe 16-Inch 13.5 AMP Electric Tiller

With a 16-inch cutting width and 8-inch tilling depth, the corded electric Sun Joe tiller is a good choice for turning new and existing beds with loose soil. A constant power supply means the lightweight, 27-pound tiller will work until you’re satisfied with the texture of the soil. A simple push start fires up the 13.5-amp motor and three-position wheel adjustment allows you to till, cultivate, or maneuver through beds with ease. Unlike gas-powered models that require fuel and spark plugs, this tiller is about as low maintenance as a tiller can be. Just collapse the handle when you’re finished and store it.

Best Tiller Black

Photo: amazon.com

3. LIGHT-DUTY PICK: BLACK+DECKER 20V MAX Tiller

If you have raised or existing beds that require only light cultivating, the BLACK+DECKER 20V MAX Tiller is a good choice. This battery-operated tiller/cultivator works up to 325 square feet with a single charge. Four-inch counter-oscillating vertical tines make short work of weeds without tangling, and the telescoping shaft makes this a back-friendly tool. At just over 8 pounds, it’s lightweight, easy to operate, and has comfort grip handles so you can work longer. The 20-volt lithium-ion battery, when fully depleted, takes up to eight hours to charge.