Tilling your garden is a necessity before you plant. But it can be a hassle and a chore. So how do you pick a hand tiller that will do the job right? And how do you make the chore enjoyable to do?
We've taken a look at some of the best hand tillers on the market. There are two main types of tiller: long-handled upright and handheld. Both have advantages and disadvantages, so the right one for you will depend on your needs.
When you're getting ready to plant your seeds this spring, use one of these to prepare their soil.
Top 6: Best Hand Tillers
Spade Vs Shovel
The Fiskars rotary cultivator is one of the best long-handled tillers on the market. It uses a unique blade system to till the earth without needing much physical effort at all. You can use it to loosen the soil, uproot weeds, aerate the soil, and mix in mulch.
The tilling head is outfitted with six spiky wheels. Each wheel has six spikes that dig deeply into the ground as they roll, churning up the soil. The aluminum construction is rustproof, so you don't need to worry about the tool being exposed to moisture.
Another ideal feature is that the tool has a telescoping handle. You can move it anywhere from 40 to 60 inches in length. This allows you to carefully till the soil without needing to kneel down or bend your back.
The wheel in the center can also be removed. This allows you to till the soil around newly-planted seeds without disturbing the seedlings themselves. Many other models aren't refined enough to work around new plants without disturbing them.
The craftsmanship is high-quality and uses only durable materials. Because of this, each purchase comes with a lifetime warranty. If any of the parts break or become damaged, you can get a repair or replacement free of charge.
Storing the tiller is also easy, thanks to the hanging loop on the end of the handle. You can hang it on a hook in your garage or shed while it's not in use. It's a very unobtrusive tool, which is good, since you won't be using it very often.
This is another excellent hand tiller that's built for tilling raised garden beds, flower boxes, and shallow soil. It is constructed completely out of steel materials, including unbreakable tines that churn up the earth. Obstacles in the ground won't bend this model out of shape.
The ergonomic T-handle is non-slip and comfortable to hold. There is a step plate that allows your center of gravity to be positioned directly over the tool. That drives the tines straight down, rather than forcing you to push at an angle.
Since the handle is so wide, there isn't as much effort required to twist. You simply use your body's mass to push the tiller around, instead of weakening your arms.
The model will loosen, turn, till, and provide oxygen to your soil. It will be much easier for air and water to flow down to your seedlings. Fertilizer will also mix more easily with the soil.
The size is ideal for raised beds, areas around shrubs, flower boxes, and other areas that can't be easily reached. If you have trouble tilling it with a power tiller or a handheld tiller, this tool can do the job instead.
It's a great choice when you want to mix peat moss or fertilizer into the existing soil. It's also ideal for general spring preparation. Weeding becomes much easier, since you can simply loosen and overturn the existing roots.
Every purchase also comes with a 30 day satisfaction guarantee. If you aren't satisfied with the product, you can get your money back.
Best Lawn Edgers
This twist tiller can be used to loosen and overturn the soil. It also uproots weeds to allow for removal and prevent further growth. You can use the model on both hard-to-reach areas and large spaces. In addition, you can sift through clay and other tough soils.
The model comes with three different adjustable heights, so you can use it regardless of how tall you are. This makes it ideal for people who want a long-handled model that's adjustable in length.
The head uses four curved tines that are all tipped with arrow points. Once you push the tines into the soil, you can easily turn the handle to aerate the material. Pushing the tines down is simple thanks to the gentle curvature.
Each package comes with a full instruction manual. Assembly tends to be fairly simple, and the product is easy to use. You can rotate the angles of the tines to dig more deeply or shallowly into the soil depending on your needs.
This tool works for your plant boxes, raised garden beds, and other areas of soil that need loosening.
The grips are soft to the touch, so you can easily hold onto them without becoming fatigued. Both the handle and pole are made from durable steel with a rust-resistant powder coating. Each of the tines is made from carbon steel that has been heat treated for maximum thickness and durability.
This is another excellent tiller that uses the rotary design. Like the previous rotary option on the list, it has a telescoping handle that can be adjusted anywhere from 40 to 60 inches.
The design is made entirely from metal, rather than using any plastic in the structure. This makes it durable enough to last for years. Plastic can freeze and crack.
There are many practical applications for this tool. It can be used for any soil tilling need you have. Many gardeners and landscapers use this product to help loosen their soil and define their garden beds.
The metal components are hardened stainless steel combined with lightweight aluminum. Both of these items are resistant to rust, so you don't need to worry about exposure to moisture.
This is a little more expensive than the last rotary option on the list. That's because the spikes are longer than those of competing rotary tillers. Each of the spikes is a full 1.5 inches long, allowing for deep penetration and movement below the surface.
You can also remove the middle wheel and adjust the outer wheels. This allows you to customize tilled widths around new plants. If you need to till the soil after your first planting, you can still do so!
Keep in mind that the wheel is meant to churn above the soil. As such, the spikes will only cut through the top two inches of soil. If you need to plant more deeply, you'll need a more heavy-duty tiller below the surface.
Best Pruning Saws
This is one of the best choices if you're looking for a handheld tiller. It has the classic design that has been used by gardeners for centuries. The handle is made from oak wood, while the blades are made from carbon steel. The metal has been heat treated to increase durability.
Each of the models comes with a non-slip grip. This allows you to keep your control even if your hands begin to sweat. Every model is also finished by hand.
You can use this tool to dig in the soil, plant your seeds, or uproot weeds. You can also use it to give the soil fresh air.
This is another great hand tiller option. Like the previous one, it features a carbon steel blade. You can use it to dig holes for planting, remove weeds, and loosen the soil. The handle has an ergonomic rubber coating that feels great in the hand, and all components have been treated with rust-proof materials.
The wooden handle is made from solid oak, which is a durable and strong wood without a lot of flex. Each purchase comes with a lifetime warranty, so if the wood does start to break down, you can get a replacement without a problem.
This tiller is particularly well suited to vegetable gardens and small flower gardens. It won't work well if you need to dig deep into the soil or till a very large area. You should be comfortable sitting on your knees if you want to use this product.
For long-handled tillers, our top recommendation is the Fiskars rotary tiller. Instead of needing you to twist the head manually in the earth, you simply walk along your garden rows. The six spiky wheels churn the soil as you go. It saves a ton of fuss and hassle, and the adjustable handle makes tilling pain-free regardless of height.
If you need to till an area that's difficult to reach, like the soil underneath a shrub or a raised garden bed, you might consider the Yard Butler model. Though this option doesn't till as quickly as the Friskars, it does loosen clay and packed-in soil in hard-to-reach places.
For handheld tillers, we highly recommend the Flexrake. This beautiful tool can take on tough soil without a problem. Just keep in mind that the wooden handle will wear down over time, so this purchase won't last a lifetime.
The Edward Tools handheld tiller has a similar design with a lifetime warranty. If the wood does start to break down or rot, you can have the item replaced at no cost to you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Agriculture has worked with hand tillers for centuries. Before seeds can be planted, the soil needs to be tilled so that it becomes looser. In the winter, the soil becomes packed down with snow and moisture. Tilling it allows roots to grow more easily through the material.
Contemporary gardeners tend to use different methods from the agricultural pioneers of old. But if you have a small home garden, or maybe a large home garden, you probably kick off the gardening season by loosening the soil.
Hand tillers are vital tools for people working with tiny gardens. A handheld tiller lets you till shallow soil in small areas. If you need to plant deeper, you can use a long-handled tiller to push further into the earth. Both of these tools turn the soil, loosen the nutrients, and provide much-needed oxygen after a long winter.
If you're adding nutritional supplements to your soil, you can also use the tiller to stir the new material in. It's like mixing ingredients in a mixing bowl. You might use perlite or vermicompost to enhance the soil quality. If you have a slow-release fertilizer or animal products you want to use, those also work well with a tiller.
Shovels can be used to perform the same task. However, they aren't as effective at breaking up the dirt. To return to the baking metaphor, it's like trying to mix ingredients with a small spoon instead of a whisk.
A shovel will create large dirt clods that are still clumped together. When you use a tiller instead, these clods break apart and mix together. If any weeds have taken root, the tiller will disturb them and allow you to mitigate or dispose of them.
Power tillers are machines that are capable of tilling massive amounts of soil. If you have a large garden area or a field that needs planting, you'll want a power tiller. Hand tillers work best when you have a garden small enough to mix all the soil by hand.
With that said, power tillers won't always work for every situation. If a power tiller can't do the job, then you'll need a hand tiller. Hand tillers require manual muscle power, but they solve garden issues.
Most front gardens have natural built-in borders around the front of the house. These gardens aren't very wide, but they may be long. Since they're not wide, they don't warrant using a power tiller. Actually, using a too-big power tiller might damage the borders of the garden bed completely.
It's also important to note that residential suburban areas often have a maze of plumbing and piping below the soil. If your lawn is irrigated, your power tiller might cut through the piping. The same is true for gas and sewer pipes. Though these tend to be buried deeper, it is much more serious when they break or leak.
Power tillers are the best option when the soil is so packed that it can't be broken apart with a hand tiller. The motor uses electricity to push beyond the limits of human strength, which makes tilling much easier.
You'll bring out your hand tiller about twice a year. In the beginning of planting season in the spring, you'll use it to loosen the post-winter soil. And in the fall, after the harvest, you'll till the soil to begin preparing it for next year.
Not everyone will till in the fall. You shouldn't till in the fall if you plant a cover crop or overwinter your crops. Doing this will just disturb the rich existing soil. Only till in areas where you aren't leaving seeds to germinate.
The fall is a good time to amend the soil with nutrients and supplements like manure and compost. These materials are great for plants because they're packed with vitamins and minerals. If you till them into the earth in the fall, they will slowly break down into the soil throughout the winter months.
You must till your garden in the spring. It is absolutely essential before you plant your new crops and flowers. If you do not till the soil, the seeds will have trouble taking root. They will struggle for oxygen and have to fight to access the nutrients they need.
The tilling process overturns the dirt that has become hardened and compact due to the weather. Once the soil is filled with fresh air, it's much easier for the new seedlings to grow. On a personal note, it's also much easier to dig your holes for planting if the soil is loose rather than compact.
There isn't any hard rule about the date or time you're meant to till the soil. In spring, it's ideal to wait for the soil to reach temperatures of around 60 degrees. Don't till before that; the cold might cause the dirt to compact again. Do the tilling process directly before planting so that weeds don't have a chance to enter.
In the fall, you can till the soil at any point prior to the onset of winter. Just make sure you do it before the ground freezes. The best time is not long after harvesting the plants. After you till the soil, consider laying down a mulch layer to keep weed seeds from burrowing into the soil.
Different tillers work for different purposes. The first step is to survey your garden. What type of soil are you overturning? How much do you need to turn? How deeply do you need to plant your seeds? All of these questions will have an impact.
Both long and short tillers will break up your soil, introduce oxygen to the space, allow you to remove any encroaching weeds, and make planting much easier. But there are advantages and disadvantages to each design.
When you're working with a compact and narrow space, you'll likely want a handheld tiller. There are several different types of handheld tiller, but they all work by tilling the soil as you push them down using your hand.
Hand cultivators are a type of tiller with a claw attached to a handle. The claw pushes deeply into the soil and breaks the clumps apart. This is an ideal design for any soil that needs tilling of around four inches or less.
Hand tillers have a different shape. They have a claw on one side of the head and a blade on the other. You can use either the claw or the blade to break up compacted soil. This is a more versatile option - not only does it have more ways of tilling the soil, but it can plunge to depths of up to 10 inches.
Hand cultivators and handheld tillers are often ideal for raised garden beds. In a raised bed, the soil doesn't tend to get as compacted. You don't need to till very deeply to prepare the bed for planting. So a small tool will be the easiest option to maneuver.
If you're unable to stay on your knees for a long time, or you have a big garden, you'll probably want an upright model.
Upright models are tillers with long handles. Most designs have a base with spikes. This attaches to the handle at a footrest. You can step on the footrest to push the spikes into the ground. The end of the handle has a T-grip, which you can twist once the spikes are properly sunken to break apart the soil.
Long-handled tillers are also great for extremely tough soils. If you're dealing with soil that has spent most of the winter frozen, or you're trying to work with clay, you'll want something more powerful than a handheld tiller.
This option is also less potentially destructive than a motorized tiller. Since you're using manual strength instead of electricity, there's less chance of accidentally damaging your pipes. You also have a lower chance of hitting thick roots that damage the machine.