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Uses of a Rotary Tiller

By Dustin Hyman ; Updated September 21, 2017

A rotary tiller is a mechanized device, usually powered by a gasoline engine, that is used to break up topsoil. If you or your neighbor don't own a rotary tiller, you can rent them at most home and garden centers. Spinning blades, set to a prescribed depth, are attached to either the front or back of a tiller. These blades spin and slice into soil, mixing organic materials into the dirt, creating a loose topsoil that is ready for planting. Tiller sizes range from large commercial machines to small general-purpose units suitable for your garden.

Preparing a Crop or Garden

The primary use of a rotary tiller is, as the name suggests, for tillage, or the process of breaking up soil. Breaking up dirt clods will prepare soil for planting seeds or for transplanting vegetation. Depending on your soil, you may need to pass through an area more than one time. Most rotary tillers can be set to different speeds, which turn the blades either faster or slower. You won't know what speed is best for your soil until you try.

Aside from vegetable gardening, a rotary tiller is perfect for preparing a flower bed. The process of tilling your land will provide you with aerated soil that plants, trees and flowers thrive in. A tiller easily mixes compost into your dirt parcel, incorporating nutrients into your soil and enhancing productivity.


An often overlooked use of a rotary tiller is trenching. Simply run your tiller over the desired area in order to break apart soil, then, with a shovel, dig out loose dirt and repeat the process until you have reached the desired depth of your trench. If you encounter a layer of dirt when trenching (or when tilling topsoil for planting) that is too tough to till, water can be introduced to loosen the soil. Farmers and gardeners will often wait until after a hard rain to use their rotary tiller.

Other Uses

Many tillers are made to use inter-changeable blades and other tools. LSU Ag Center describes how, "Some of the small hand-held models can be equipped with detaching tines or rotary brushes." Other tillers can be made to work with a snow or dirt blade. Some tillers can be reassembled to function as sickle-bar mowers, shredders or grinders. Check your user's manual or knowledgeable personnel prior to using any specialized attachments. Rotary tillers are powerful machines and should be respected as being potentially dangerous.