How to Choose a Roto Tiller


For small and large gardens, a tiller can be a fantastic work-saving machine. With the large selection of tillers available on the market, choosing the best one for your needs might be challenging. Garden tillers are front- or rear-tined, gas or electric, and small or large. To get a tiller that suits you and your garden, think about the size of your space, your soil type and how you will use the machine.

Step 1

Learn about any local restrictions on exhaust emissions and noise pollution. You can find these ordinances at the public library, the courthouse or online on government websites. Some states such as California have banned many types of two-stroke engines on garden tools because they emit more exhaust than four-stroke engines. Gas-powered tillers can also reach sound levels of 85 decibels, while many electric models aren't much louder than a coffee grinder.

Step 2

Check out the soil in your garden. Has it been cultivated before? Are there a lot of large weeds and rocks? Smaller tillers are appropriate for light weeding jobs and turning soft soil that has been worked in the past. They don't have enough power to dig through large rocks, and big weeds can easily jam up the blades.

Step 3

Choose a rear-tined tiller to break open native soil or to work heavy clay or rocky soil. Rear-tined tillers are generally larger and more powerful than front-tined tillers. They have wheels that operate independently of the blades, whereas front-tined tillers are powered forward by the turning of the blades and the wheels, if any, are just there for balance.

Step 4

Buy a front-tined tiller if you need to maneuver it through narrow spaces. With or without wheels, front-tined tillers are lighter and easier to control so you won't accidentally rip out plants on the edges of narrow aisles or rows.

Step 5

Consider a large tiller with a horsepower of eight or higher if you have a big garden. A tiller can save you the work of digging and weeding by hand, but smaller models still leave you a lot of the work of pushing or pulling the machine. A wide tiller with four sets of blades cuts a wider swath, which means you'll cover more ground with each pass.

Step 6

Test out different tillers in the shop to see what you're comfortable with. Check the weight and balance of the machine and width of the handlebars. Minitillers and cultivators often weigh less than 20 pounds, making them easy to lift as you work, while large tillers can only be comfortably wheeled. Tillers with wheels are generally more balanced, and you can make sharp turns with them more easily without lifting the whole machine.

Step 7

Borrow or rent some tillers before purchasing your own. Use a few different tillers to see how they feel while working. Large, rear-tined tillers often need to be restrained to keep them from jumping forward too quickly, while minitillers and front-tined tillers have to be pushed both forward and down to reach desired soil depths. You should also make sure you're comfortable with the noise and vibration of the machine.


  • University of Illinois Extension: What to Look for When Buying Tillers
  • Extreme How-To: Choosing a Tiller
  • Lawn Mania: Roto-tillers Quick Guide
  • Consumer Reports: Mini-Tillers --- More Power Less Effort
  • Consumer Reports: Garden Tiller Types
Keywords: choosing tillers, garden tillers, garden tools

About this Author

Sarah Metzker Erdemir is an expat writer and ESL teacher living in Istanbul since 2002. A fiction writer for more than 25 years, she began freelance writing and editing in 2000. Ms. Metzker Erdemir holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in Romance languages and linguistics as well as a TESOL Master of Arts degree. She has written articles for eHow, Garden Guides, and ConnectEd.