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How Do I Choose the Best Yard Tiller?

The cutting blades are in front of the tires with a front tine tiller.
Rear-tined tillers are best suited for large jobs or hard-packed soil.
A mini tiller might be well suited for a smaller yard space.
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  • Written By: Koren Allen
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 26 June 2014
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Choosing the right yard tiller means finding the right combination of size, power, and manageability for both your digging site and for the person who will be using the tiller. Tillers range in size from small and lightweight mini-tillers or cultivators, all the way up to large and powerful units that are capable of breaking tough soils over large areas. Before you buy, you should know the size of the area that will be tilled, whether you will be breaking new ground or tilling previously cultivated earth, how compacted the soil is, and how thick the grass and weeds grow in the area. Another important consideration is the strength and ability of the person who will be using the yard tiller. Mini-tillers are lightweight and suitable even for some elderly or disabled persons, while large tillers may require considerable physical strength to operate.

Garden tillers can be broken down into three general categories: mini-tillers or cultivators, mid-sized front-tined tillers, or large rear-tined tillers. Mini-tillers, as the name suggests, are small and lightweight; some units weigh under 30 pounds (13.61 kg). They are perfect for aerating small flower beds and for weeding between rows in a vegetable garden. Mini-tillers are also excellent for quickly working organic material into previously tilled soil. Since they tend to be under three horsepower, they are best used on soil that has already been broken up and is fairly loose and easy to work.

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A midsize yard tiller, between three and five horsepower, is good for maintaining mid-sized yards and gardens. Many of these tillers are front-tine models, which means the cutting blades sit in front of the engine, although some midsize tillers can be found with rear tines, or blades that sit behind the engine. More powerful than a mini, a midsize yard tiller can be used to break up unworked areas of lawn for new landscaping beds. If the ground is hard-baked by the sun, rocky, or heavy in clay, the midsize tiller may not be powerful enough to dig into the soil, skipping across the top instead.

For broad, open areas and for hard-packed or thickly weeded soils, a large yard tiller is the best option. These are generally over six horsepower with rear tines, which means they have the power to till up even difficult soils. Because these units are large and heavy, operating them may require a bit of muscle and patience, but they will make short work of a very large project. Some large tillers have attachments to perform additional tasks, including snow removal, edging, dethatching, log-splitting, and even light hauling.

In addition to the size and difficulty of your tilling project, your budget will be another important consideration. As one might expect, mini-tillers are the least expensive option, while the largest and most powerful tillers are the most expensive, ranging up to $3,000 US Dollars (USD). Finally, consider how much space you have available to store your tiller. Mini-tillers are as small as a weed-eater, and those with folding handles may be stored in a relatively small space. Large tillers will require quite a bit more space in your shed or garage.

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