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What Is a Rotary Tiller?

Home gardeners and small commercial landscape companies use rotary tillers.
Rear tine rotary tillers have cutting tines mounted at the back of the machine.
A UTV, or utility task vehicle, looks like a golf cart, but is more rugged and can carry heavier loads.
Mini rotary tillers are propelled forward entirely by the movement of the tines.
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  • Written By: D. Monda Dill
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2014
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A rotary tiller is a mechanized cultivating implement that is used to prepare soil for planting. It is one of the most popular power tools among home gardeners and small landscaping companies, who use it primarily for tilling garden and lawn areas. Also known as rototillers, garden tillers, or Mantis™ tillers, rotary tillers are smaller and less expensive cultivators than the commercial-grade models that are operated on large farms.

Rotary tillers are primarily designed to break up sod or compacted earth for new vegetable gardens, flowerbeds, or lawns. They are also used to plow furrows for seeds or seedlings, as well as dig planting holes. The rotary tiller is especially well-suited for use in small space gardens.

A tiller is also used for maintenance tasks in existing gardens. These include weeding and aerating around growing plants. The tiller tines also help to mix manure, spent plants, and other organic material into the soil. Some gardeners use their rotary tillers to make their own homemade potting mixture.

A rotary tiller is engineered with two sets of specially-designed circular blades or tines that are attached to a motorized horizontal shaft. The tiller spins the tines, digging them down into the topsoil to a pre-determined depth. The tines loosen and lift the soil, turning it over.

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Rotary tillers fall into one of three categories based on the positioning of their tines: front tine tillers, rear tine tillers, and tractor-mounted tillers. The front and rear tined tillers have their tines mounted at the front and back of the machine respectively. Each type of tiller is best suited for different purposes.

Front tine tillers are lighter and more compact than rear tined tillers, and are best for small-scale gardening tasks. They usually have forward-rotating tines, which help propel the machine forward as it works the soil. The engine on this tiller is located above the tines to provide a counterweight for the machine.

The rear tine rotary tiller is heavier and more powerful than the front tined tiller, and is engineered for larger, more challenging tilling tasks. It is also more versatile, and often features variable speeds and tine depths. Although they are not as maneuverable as the front tine tiller, they are easier to control.

There are two types of rear tine tillers: counter rotating tines (CRT) and standard rotating tines (SRT). CRT models have tines that rotate towards the rear, making it easier to till compact soil, while SRT models have tines that rotate in the forward direction. Some rear tine tillers are designed with reversible tines, providing the user with the benefit of both functions.

Large, tractor-mounted rotary tillers offer faster, more efficient tilling of larger tracts of land. The tiller’s tine shaft is attached to the rear of the tractor by means of a three-point-hitch. An all-terrain vehicle (ATV) or utility terrain vehicle (UTV) may be used in place of a tractor. This type of rotary tiller can only be used in relatively open terrain that provides enough space for it to maneuver.

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