Whether you’re a new gardener looking to start your first garden, or an experienced horticulturalist wanting to revive an old piece of land, a garden tiller is an essential tool to prepare your chosen patch of earth for planting. Garden tillers break up hard ground, cut through tough weeds and roots, and loosen the soil to help aeration.
Read on to discover the 11 best garden tillers to help kickstart your garden!
What is the Difference Between a Garden Tiller and a Cultivator?
Before we get to our list of best garden tillers, it’s important to understand the difference between a garden tiller and a cultivator. The two are commonly treated interchangeably, but there are important differences.
Environmental factors like rain sometimes cause a thick crust to develop on the surface of exposed garden soil. This crust is harmful to plants because it isolates roots from water nutrients and helpful organisms. Cultivators are tools used to break up this crust and loosen up the soil around existing plants within a garden or flowerbed, which makes it easier for planted seeds to grow toward the sunlight.
Garden tillers do similar, though more heavy-duty, soil-breaking work. You need a garden tiller to start a garden on an unused patch or strip of land, whose earth is compact, hard, and rocky. A cultivator is too weak to churn up this soil. Depending on how hard the earth is, you might need to use the garden tiller more than once before you can think about planting.
If you try to use a garden tiller (even if it’s the best garden tiller!) in a flowerbed or garden the way you would a cultivator, you might damage the plants’ roots and harm an already established and effective soil structure and organism habitat.
In other words, use a garden tiller to prepare unused land for gardening or cultivation; use a cultivator to loosen soil and revitalize an already established garden or farmland.
Now let’s take a look at the 11 best garden tillers!
11 Best Garden Tillers
Best Overall Garden Tiller
The Mantis 7940 is the #1 best garden tiller because it has the best of everything. This Honda engine gas-powered garden tiller has a quiet start and can power through the toughest earth at an astounding depth of 10 inches. The Mantis 7940 also doesn’t require fuel mixing, and features patented reversible serpentine tines, that churn up even rocky soil.
- Reversible serpentine tines
- Weighs just 24 pounds
- Two-year warranty
- Gas-powered engine is not great for the environment
Best Electric Tiller
Sun Joe TJ604E
It’s no wonder that electric tillers have made two of the top three best garden tillers—this Sun Joe TJ603E is a fan favorite. Like the Earthwise TC70016, the electric power allows for easy maintenance and maneuverability (the height of the rear wheel can be adjusted), and this machine, in particular, demonstrates reasonable force for an electric garden tiller down to a depth of eight inches.
- Adjustable rear wheel
- Collapsible handles for easy storage
- Lack of a metal frame
Best Electric Tiller On a Budget
The Earthwise TC70016 comes in a close second place on this list of best garden tillers because it works amazingly well in all types of soil, loosening it at a depth of nine inches. The fact that its electric is a winning point for many, because of how light and maneuverable it is despite its corded feature.
- Works well in different types of soils
- Not expensive
- Weighs 29 pounds—more than the Mantis 7940.
Best Smaller Tiller
Sun Joe TJ603E
The Sun Joe TJ603E is very similar to the TJ604E—in fact, they both weigh just over 27 pounds—except that the TJ603E is a little smaller and with a lower RPM of its tines. Though it’s still a light, easy-to-use, and strong machine, it just doesn’t have the same power as its big brother.
- Adjustable rear wheel
- Collapsible handles for easy storage
- Not as powerful as other tillers
Best Cordless Electric Tiller
Black + Decker LGC120
Our number five is another electric, but this one is battery-powered. The best part of this 20-volt lithium-ion battery Black + Decker is that it has a long lifespan—it will churn up to 325 square feet on one charge without ever tripping you on a cord. The machine is also decked with counter-oscillating tines that keep weeds from tangling in the metal forks.
- Counter-oscillating tines
- Long battery life
- Not super powerful
- Needs to be recharged
Best Tiller For Small Gardens
If you have a relatively small garden, the Earthwise TC70001 is the perfect machine for you. While the electric tiller is corded, it’s a great choice for gardeners on a budget that still need to churn up moderately compact soil at a depth of 8.5 inches or less. The machine features an easy start, a safety button for emergency shut-offs, and easily maneuvers through tight spaces like narrow rows or the edges of a lawn. Its 25-pound weight makes it a dream to carry, but remember that it comes with a trade-off to power!
- Not expensive
- Easy start
- Nimble in small spaces
- Not very powerful
Best Gas Tiller on a Budget
Earthquake 31635 MC33
The Earthquake MC33 is a small but inexpensive and powerful garden tiller that gets the job done. Though gas-powered, the machine is relatively light and avoids the frustration of charging a battery or staying close to a power source. Plus, thanks to its removable tines, it can dig six or ten inches down into tough soil.
- Not expensive
- Five-year warranty
- Recoil starting system
- Need to mix gas and oil to power engine
Best For Reliability
Honda Mini-Tiller Cultivator
Don’t let its name fool you! The Honda Mini-Tiller Cultivator (though now you know that it’s actually a garden tiller!) is tremendously powerful. Its tines dig nine inches deep, it features one of the best engines on the market, and has a front-engine guard. Its downside, however, is that it is more expensive than other garden tillers of comparable power.
- Quality engine
- Front engine guard
Best Heavy Tiller
Troy-Bilt Bronco Tiller 14 inch
The 14-inch Troy-Bilt Bronco garden tiller is a beastly machine. It weighs 164 pounds and has high-quality cast iron-made bronze parts, which guarantees better durability than its competitors. For the amount of muscle it boasts, it also comes at a reasonable cost. Its downside, however, is that it’s not very wide compared to other garden tillers, which means it might take longer to till very large patches of land.
- Cast iron-made bronze parts
- Reasonable price
- Very heavy
- Not very wide
Best Manual Tiller
Yard Butler Twist Tiller
Surprised that we’ve included a hand tiller in our list of 11 best garden tillers? You shouldn’t be! The Yard Butler Twist Tiller is the perfect tool for small spaces like flower boxes and around plants, where electric or gas tillers might destroy the surrounding plantation.
- Perfect for small spaces
- Cushioned hand grips
- You can operate it while standing
- Cheaper than gas or electric tillers
Best For Safety
Last but certainly not least, we have a high-performing Greenworks electric cordless garden tiller. Some of its best features include a two-step power switch (which makes it particularly safe), a lightweight of just 21 pounds, a charge that lasts up to half an acre of work, and a cultivating width of 10 inches. However, its tines only reach a depth of five inches, the battery typically needs to be recharged after just over half an hour of work, and it is quite expensive.
- Two-step power switch
- Shallow tines
How to Choose the Best Garden Tiller for Your Garden
Of course, there are also differences between garden tillers. The trick is finding the best garden tiller to fit your needs! The three factors you should consider are the size of your garden, the type of soil you’ll be working with, and what budget you allow yourself. Some garden tillers work widely, others deeply, and still others have different ranges of power and longevity.
The types of garden tillers you can choose from include battery-powered electric tillers, corded electric tillers, and gas tillers, which can have front tine tillers, rear tine tillers, or vertical tillers.
Different Types of Garden Tillers
Electric Garden Tillers
Electric garden tillers are typically great to work smaller, lower-duty patches of land. This is because they are less powerful than gas garden tillers. They are, however, usually lighter to carry, and more compact to store. They also work more quietly than gas garden tillers—something to be kept in mind depending on how close your neighbors live! Of course, they are also better for the environment.
Electric garden tillers are either corded—which means that they must be plugged into a power outlet to work—or battery-operated. Corded tillers have the advantage of not depending on a battery to run, and are usually more powerful than their cordless counterparts, but you have to be constantly attached to a source of energy, and you also run the risk of getting tangled in the cord.
Battery-powered tillers are a nimbler tool, but you need to charge them regularly to avoid running out of battery in the middle of your workday! Electric garden tiller batteries usually run between half an hour to two hours per charge, depending on the model.
Gas Garden Tillers
Gas garden tillers are the best garden tillers in terms of power. Because they’re so powerful, they are heavy and need a lot of maintenance. Gas garden tillers come with either a two-cycle or a four-cycle engine. Two-cycle engines are cheaper and run on oil and gasoline, while four-cycle engines are more expensive and run on gasoline alone. Remember that the latter is better for the environment (though not as green as the electric tillers).
Heavy-duty gas tillers are also either front, rear, or vertical tine garden tillers. Front tine tillers are gas garden tillers whose tines (the metal forks that break up the ground) are, as you might expect, at the front of the machine. They rotate forward, which helps push the garden tiller along and makes it easy to maneuver. These types of garden tillers are a good choice for smaller patches of land whose ground isn’t extremely packed because their tines usually don’t reach as deeply and are not as powerful as rear tine tillers.
Rear tine garden tillers are the heavy-duty type of already heavy-duty garden tillers! Their tines are located behind big wheels, which are powered by the engine to move forward (as opposed to the front tine tillers, which depend on the rotation of the tillers themselves to propel the machine). Rear tine tillers can dig deeper into the soil, which makes this machine perfect for rough, compact terrain.
Last but certainly not least, vertical tine tillers act like egg beaters, with tines that rotate vertically to cut through tough earth. Vertical tine garden tillers are great because it usually just takes one pass to churn and break up the earth.
Manual Garden Tillers
Manual garden tillers are naturally the cheapest kind of tillers, but you should only rely on these to concentrate your efforts on a very small garden. Anything bigger will take an eternity to till, and you might hurt your back in the process!
Maintaining Your Garden Tiller
Now that you’ve used our list of 11 best garden tillers to decide on which tool works best for you, it’s time to think about maintenance (especially gas garden tillers!). Here are a couple of tips.
In gas tillers, the air filter should be cleaned, and its replaceable paper components replaced, at least once per season. This prevents debris from polluting the engine. At the end of the season, the gas tank should be either completely drained or receive a fuel stabilizer. Remember to change the engine oil one or more times a year.
For all tillers, tines should be regularly cleaned and lubricated—this helps prevent rusting—and eventually replaced when they grow dull. At the end of the season, it will be worth your time to flip the machine on its back and clean out the dirt it has surely accumulated. You should also check the tires’ air pressure and make sure it matches the correct inflation pressure (this should be printed on the tire itself). Then, store it in a dry place so that it’s ready to go as soon as the tilling season comes back around!
Wrapping Up the Top 11 Garden Tillers
All in all, the Mantis 7940 remains the #1 best garden tiller because of its performance, reach, ease of use, and durability. Hopefully, though, this list of the 11 best garden tillers has given you a few extra options as well.
Tillers are only the start of useful tools to make all your garden tasks easier (and fun). Check out our Digging Tools page for information about garden digging tools like other hand tillers, cultivators, hoes, and so much more!