Any gardener who's ever spent an evening nursing an aching back after spending the day tilling a garden by hand will happily tell you about the wonders of a rototiller. To novice gardeners, rototilling can be intimidating.
What It Is
The rototiller is a digging machine--basically, a soil tiller that's operated by a gas-powered engine. The larger the engine, the higher the amount of horsepower, so with a bigger rototiller comes ease of use. On larger machines, the digging tines are often adjustable too, allowing for different depths of tilling.
What It Does
Even though they're digging machines, rototillers aren't meant for digging holes, but are meant to take the place of turning over soil by hand with either a shovel or pitchfork. In the spring, rototillers are used to break up hard soils in preparation for planting, and they are great options for killing weeds as the tilling action cuts the stems and roots and incorporates the chopped-up plants back into the soil, where they decompose as natural compost. In the fall, rototilling is used to incorporate soil additives such as fertilizer that will break down over the winter months, thus improving soil for the coming planting season. When properly rototilled, a garden bed will have fine, crumbly soil.
Rototilling can have additional benefits. Rototilling in the spring can reduce the number of insects in your flower beds. The grinding action is thought to kill pupa and other insect eggs. Additionally, rototilling makes it easier for gardeners to incorporate soil additives such as compost, cover crops and manure by thoroughly mixing them into the soil.
Rototillers come in various sizes and horsepower options. Buying too much power or too little power is a common problem for novice gardeners. When in doubt, measure the length and width of the garden to figure the square footage you intend to till, and consult an expert at your local hardware store.
Safety is a prime consideration when rototilling. Additional options to consider when deciding to use a rototiller are such features as self-cleaning digging tines, anti-kickback devices, engine kill switches and noise reduction features. Never work near moving tines while wearing loose clothing, especially long pant legs.