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Not All Rototillers are Created Equal

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By Lois Hoffman | Apr 5, 2018

Like most things in life, when you start with a good foundation, your overall project has a better chance for success. Establishing and maintaining a garden is no exception.

Rototillers are divided between garden tillers and cultivators. Garden tillers come in three styles: front-tine, mid-tine and rear-tine. All three have powerful engines that are designed to break up new ground, although all three were designed for slightly different tasks.

Front-tine models are usually less expensive and are designed for weeding or stirring established beds. This is probably the most popular model. Most have a drag bar feature that makes the tiller easier to handle by helping to eliminate the “jumping” motion created when the tines encounter hard ground.

Mid-tine models are the most maneuverable of the models. The engine is mounted directly over the tires, which provides for more weight and balance.

Rear-tine tillers are further divided into standard front rotating tines, counter-rotating or backward tines and dual. Here, most models have the standard tines that pull the ground into them as they break up the ground.

Some tillers have the capability to be both front and rear-tine driven and are billed as dual tine rototillers. Needless to say, these models provide the best qualities of the other two models combined but also usually come with a higher price tag.

Tillers come in various sizes and size is what determines what engine each model uses. Smaller and lighter models are equipped with two-stroke engines. With these, oil has to be mixed into the gas, the spark plugs are more prone to fouling out and the tiller has a shorter shelf life. Four-stroke models are your heavier tillers which use regular oil, require less maintenance and are geared to lasting longer. Which model you choose depends on what the task at hand is.

If you don’t have big jobs to do, the “mini-tillers,” often referred to as cultivators, are the handiest of all the tiller groups. They are lightweight, portable and are perfect for cleaning between established beds, weeding between the rows of gardens and getting in other tight places. I love mine for going around rock gardens and doing other edging. It digs up the dirt, makes a nice neat edge and prevents weeds from growing between rock and around other landscaping.

Don’t be fooled by its size either. Although it is smaller and requires more passes, I have used mine to break new ground and clean up borders around the garden where grass had started to invade. They come in gas or electric models and are propelled by cutting tines that rip through dirt and soil.

Before rototillers made their real mark on the gardening scene, most everyone mold board plowed their gardens each year. There are still some advantages to this method as plowing turns the soil down deeper than a rototiller can. However, not everyone needs nor wants to own a plow and plows definitely are limited when it comes to smaller garden spaces. Many times, folks will opt to hire someone to plow their garden since it is only done once a year. This eliminates buying a plow and tractor, maintaining them and storing them. Sometimes it boils down to just a personal preference.

Rototillers make loosening the soil and maintaining a weed-free garden easier. When choosing a model, just make your choice based on what you want to accomplish. Whether digging new gardens or mixing and blending soil and compost, the model and type of rototiller you choose can make a big difference in your gardening experience.

Photo by Getty Images/FotoDuets

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