What Is the Difference Between a Tiller & a Cultivator?


Preparing a garden for planting can be a time-consuming and back-breaking chore when done with a hoe or a shovel, and keeping the weeds out of the garden is a never-ending job. Whether tilling the virgin ground for planting or keeping the weeds out of the garden, using an electric or gas-powered tiller and cultivator will make quick work of these labor-intensive jobs.


Tilling the ground is simply loosening the soil for planting. Tilling the soil is advisable for easier planting of the crops and is important for good plant growth. It is also helpful when adding nutrients to the soil. Merriam-Webster's on-line dictionary explains that tilling is the plowing or sowing of the soil.


Cultivating, while similar to tilling, is done after the crops have begun to sprout from the ground. According to Merriam-Webster's on-line dictionary, cultivating is used to loosen the soil around growing plants. Cultivating the garden is helpful because it aerates the soil and makes it easier to pull up the weeds when they begin to invade the garden.

How Tillers Work

Tillers have deep-cutting blades to enable the gardener to break up the soil deep down for better aeration and deeper moisture penetration. The tillers available now have blades that are either in front or in the rear of the machine. Front-blade tillers are more difficult to move along and require multiple passes over the same ground for deep, well-turned soil. Rear-blade tillers (or rear-tined tillers) are more easily controlled by the operator and break up the soil better than front-blade tillers.

How Cultivators Work

Cultivators, like tillers, break up the soil in the garden. However, cultivators are generally used after the plants have broken through the soil. Cultivating helps loosen the soil around the plants so they can get more water and fertilizers close to the roots, where they are needed. They are also useful in keeping weeds out of the garden, because the weeds are easier to pull out of the garden when the soil has been broken up around them.

Cultivator vs. Tiller

While tillers and cultivators are useful machines to have around, there are some circumstances where the gardener might prefer one or the other. If planting a small garden of less than 100 square feet, a cultivator is best because it can be used to break up the soil before planting as well as after the plants have germinated. It is not advisable to use a tiller after the plants have broken through the soil, because the tilling of the soil could damage or uproot the new seedlings. However, if planting an area larger than 100 square feet, it is a good idea to have both a tiller and a cultivator to make gardening easier.

Keywords: tilling soil, cultivating crops, Roto-tiller, garden tools

About this Author

Katherine Bostick has been writing since 1993. She is a freelance writer and has written articles for both the 'Spectator' and the 'Crossties' newspapers. Bostick writes articles on educational topics, personal essays, health topics, current events, and more. Bostick performs copy editing and book review services as well as produces her own local newspaper in South Florida.