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What is a Cultivator?

A cultivator can break up dirt clods.
Rear-tine tillers have cutting tines mounted at the back of the machine.
A hand cultivator is a tool used by gardeners to work the soil.
Rotary tillers are used to cultivate areas too big for a hand tiller but too small for a tractor.
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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 31 July 2014
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A cultivator is both a general term for any tool that is used to prepare soil for planting, and the name of four specific tools: a piece of machinery attached to a tractor, a small engine-propelled machine, a hand-action tool, and a traditional hand-tool. It is designed to remove weeds with shallow roots and to break up surface soil near plants for aeration. These tools can also be used to mix compost and fertilizer into the soil.

Farm Equipment. A field cultivator, which has metal teeth to break up the soil, is made to be pulled by a tractor. It mixes the soil while overturning weeds, killing them but leaving them in the soil to limit erosion. A disk cultivator, on the other hand, uses circular metal blades to destroy weeds, but doesn't leave material on the surface in the same way. While these tools are used to prepare the entire field, sometimes following directly after the combine at harvest time, an in-row or row cultivator can be used to keep down weeds without herbicides and aerate the soil during the growing season.

Rotary Tiller. Tiller is another word for this tool, and these machines speed up the cultivation of areas too large to work with hand tools, but too small to warrant a tractor. They have gas engines and may have front tines, mid tines, or rear tines, which increase in strength in that order.

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Hand-action Cultivator. A push-pull cultivator has rotating tines attached to a handle. It can maintain gardens that have already been cultivated and weed within rows. Some are available with both a long and a short handle.

Hand Cultivator. Made of metal or synthetic material, this tool is used with a chop and pull motion that allows its three curved prongs to catch and remove weeds or to break up dirt clods. Made with prongs of equal length, or the central prong shorter so the device can reach around both sides of a plant stem at once, it is one of the three tools often sold in gardening sets, along with a trowel and a weeder or a trowel and a transplanter.

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