Garden soil compacts over time because of exposure to the elements. This compression process requires the gardener to cultivate garden areas before planting vegetables, flowers and shrubs. Using a garden tiller makes this job considerably less tiresome. A garden tiller features thick, curved metal blades that dig into the soil. These motorized cultivation tools break up compacted soils and allow easy mixing of organic amendments into garden beds.
Soil Moisture Content
Soil consistency changes dramatically after moderate to heavy rainfall. Using a tiller with soggy soil creates a muddy mess and makes the job considerably harder. Thick clumps of wet soil attach to the tiller blades and restrict spinning action. Blades also have difficulty cutting into the soil. Till garden soil on dry days when the soil has a lighter consistency for easy movement of the tiller blades through the dirt.
Less Power is More
Tilling at high speed defeats the purpose of churning up the soil. The object lies in mixing the garden like a bowl of brownie mix, stirring deeply with every pass. Toggle down the power and move slowly down each row. With the first pass, tackle the top layers of soil. Use the second pass to reach the 12- to 18-inch depths of the garden that house the roots of plants.
Garden tillers offer an efficient way to mix soil amendments such as compost, manure and peat moss into the planting bed. Don't try to cut corners by pouring organic additives onto the surface of an untilled garden. Turn over the entire garden bed before adding amendments. Level it with a rake and pour soil additives on top of the garden surface. Cultivate the garden again to mix the additives through the soil layers.
Cultivating Around Existing Plants
Garden tillers have an adjustment feature called a brake stake. Its placement controls the digging depth of the blades. Adjust the stake to cultivate upper layers of soil around existing plants. Deeper tilling may damage tender perennial, annual or vegetable roots. Do not use a tiller around the base of a mature shrub or tree. Trees send out feeder roots to capture water in the top 6 to 12 inches of soil. Tiller damage can cause the loss of an entire mature landscape tree or shrub.
Rinse off the blades of the tiller after use. Mist the blades with a fine spray of light oil to keep the blades from rusting. Attack rust spots with a steel wool pad and some elbow grease.