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Rototilling Tips

By Sylvia Cochran ; Updated September 21, 2017

Learning how to use a rototiller makes garden soil preparation a lot easier. The basic setup of the machine is simple: rotating blades break up the soil and decrease incidents of topsoil compaction. Rototilling turns over the dirt, aerates the soil, wipes out fully-grown weeds and undesired flora, and makes it possible to prepare a large piece of ground for cultivation. Follow a few simple rototilling tips for good results.

Reduce Weed Growth

Rototilling kills adult weeds, but it encourages buried weed seeds to sprout. This is due to the sudden sunlight exposure to seeds that are dormant in the dark soil. The Agricultural Research Service discovered that rototilling farmland at night helped reduce the emergence of certain weeds by 50 to 80 percent.

Proper Tilling Depths

Adjust the break tine to extend sufficiently far, so that it will slow down the rototiller. The slower you till, the better you grind the soil. If the machine is still going too fast, push down harder on the handle; this will enhance the break tine’s efficiency. The goal is to reach a depth of about 5 inches when planting leaf vegetables or flowers, and up to 8 inches deep when planting root veggies.

Weather Conditions

Avoid tilling after multiple rainy days; the soil will be too wet and you may actually compact it by applying your weight along with the machine's, rather than aerating and loosening it. Work on a day when the wind is calm; windy conditions cause tilled top soil to go airborne, and you may loose a lot of valuable dirt.

Soil Additives

If you rototill in spring before establishing your vegetable garden, break up the ground of the plot where you plan on growing your plants. After you finish with the initial pass, spread manure or compost over the soil; till the area again, this time in the other direction. This allows the machine to work the additives into the soil and prepares a fertile plot of land for seeds or seedlings. Rototilling in fall—after you harvest your crops—makes it possible to add different soil additives, which could adversely affect tender roots if you added them in spring.

Minimize Deep Tilling

Deep tilling refers to the repeated pulverization of soil. This occurs when a gardener makes three or more passes with a rototiller set at the deepest level. The notion behind the warning to ease up on deep tilling rests on the understanding that within the soil there are a number of organisms—such as worms and fungi—that provide benefits to growing plants. Pulverizing the soil results in their destruction, which decreases the garden’s ability to support growing plants.


About the Author


Based in the Los Angeles area, Sylvia Cochran is a seasoned freelance writer focusing on home and garden, travel and parenting articles. Her work has appeared in "Families Online Magazine" and assorted print and Internet publications.