What is a Garden Tiller?

Harriette Halepis

A garden tiller, also known as a plow, Rototiller®, rotary tiller, and rotary plough, is a motorized machine that continuously turns soil with the help of rotating blades. Rotary tillers can function on their own, or they can be attached to a motorized vehicle such as a two or four-wheel tractor.

Garden tillers use rotating blades to cultivate soil.
Garden tillers use rotating blades to cultivate soil.

The rotary tiller was invented by Arthur Clifford Howard of New South Wales, Australia, in 1912. Howard wanted to find a better way to till the ground without an extensive amount of human force. By March 1922, he had found a way to create a garden tiller that worked rather well. He eventually established the Howard Rotavator Co. Ltd. Later the Rototiller® was invented as an alternative to Howard's Rotavator™.

Garden tillers come in small sizes for home use.
Garden tillers come in small sizes for home use.

Rototillers® function with the help of a small gas engine. These garden tiller machines were meant to be used slowly, so that a user can gain optimal soil tilth. Good tilth refers to soil having more nutrients and a better structure than soil that has not been properly tilled. Therefore, the slower a Rototiller® works, the better off soil will be. Even though Rototillers® help to make tilling a garden easier, they can be difficult to maneuver.

In contrast to the Rototiller®, the Rotavator™ is self-propelled. The Rotavator™ can be directed backward or forwards by making use of the machine's gearbox. This gearbox allows a user to adjust the speed of the machine, though the blades remain at a steady pace. This makes using the Rotavator™ easier than the Rototiller®.

Before Howard invented the Rotavator™, most garden soil had to be tilled by hand. This was exhausting work that often took days to complete. Based upon the model of the average garden tiller, larger industrial farm tillers were invented. These riding Rotavators make use of powerful engines and large blades that can till massive plots of land in a very little amount of time.

The invention of the industrial Rotavator™ has made work a lot easier for industrial farmers. A garden tiller can be purchased at any local hardware store, and many different types of tillers are available. The best way to choose a garden tiller is to select one that is easy to move. It is also important to choose a tiller that is fairly lightweight, since moving a tiller is a large part of tilling land. Gardeners that use tillers often find that their crops grow better than they did before a tiller was purchased.

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Discussion Comments


My grandfather used to tell us stories about how he used a mule and plow to put in the rows on his daddy’s farm. He said that it was a whole lot harder then than it is now, and that farmers had a whole lot harder time making a living.

He also said, though, that he loved it. He would find old Native American arrowheads in the ground that he tilled – and he got to see a lot of reward for his work.

He said there’s nothing like plowing and sowing a field, and working and working on it to make it grow; and then reaping all of that reward when the harvest came in.

Garden tillers and cultivators are a whole lot easier to use now, but it's still rewarding to bring in that harvest every season!


I sure would hate to have to go back to the olden days where people had to plow with a mule, but I’ve gotta say that even a small garden tiller can be tough to handle!

My husband seems to do it with no problem – but it feels like the thing is going to tear my arms out of the sockets when I get ahold of it!

It does kind of propel itself forward on its own, but you have to guide it so that it doesn’t fall over or go all over the place. That is not near as easy as it sounds!

And, since this is an improvement over the days when people plowed the fields walking behind an animal I’ve gotta say that I feel so, so sorry for them!

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