Do I need a Tiller or a Cultivator? – What you need to know.

Ardisam Earthquake VECTOR Petrol Cultivator
Ardisam Earthquake VECTOR Petrol Cultivator

It’s the time of year when you may consider preparing the soil for general planting, sowing seed beds or preparing an area for growing vegetables. You will want to prepare the soil so that it is as fertile as possible to give roots the best chance to grow and spread and absorb all the nutrients and water they require to produce healthy plants.

If you are looking for a machine to help you prepare the soil, both a Tiller and Cultivator will do the same thing in that they dig up and turn over the soil. However, choosing which one you need really depends on the job in hand as there are differences between them.

Really the choice comes down to the size of plot that you are looking to dig and the purpose.

Tillers tend to be more powerful with more digging power than cultivators – they are better suited therefore to larger areas, with generally wider working widths than cultivators and bigger, heavier duty tines to turn over the soil at greater depth. If you want to dig up new ground they are a better option than a cultivator as they can dig deeper and tackle roots.

Areas up to 140 sq metres

Front-tine tillers have tines which help propel the machine forward and dig deep into the soil. These might be a suitable choice of machine for a small to medium sized garden of up to 140 sq metres. Perfect for weeding and general preparation of the soil and mixing in compost.

Areas over 140 sq metres

Rear-tine tillers tend to be a better option for larger planting areas. With forward rotating tines they are good for turning soil in existing beds, for weeding and helping in the addition of compost. If you want to break up new ground then consider a Rear-tine tiller with counter rotating tines as these turn in the opposite direction to the wheels. This gives the tiller the strength and torque it needs to dig deep into the soil.

 Cultivators are generally smaller than tillers and are best used for maintaining existing beds, for facilitating weeding and mixing in compost. Cultivators tend to be easier to handle and move around. They are ideal for weeding between rows in vegetable plots as they can have a tilling width of 12 inches.


Getting your soil into shape

Good quality soil is fundamental to all we do in the garden.  There’s still time to get yours into shape and on the way to producing bigger flowers and heavier crops, with better resistance to pests and diseases this season.

Mulched bed
Photo: Mulched bed – Madingley Mulch
Alpina TI2648Li Cordless Cultivator
Alpina TI2648Li Cordless Cultivator

Soil should be cultivated regularly to allow air in to warm up the soil and speed up plant growth – it also aids drainage and makes weeding easier.  Winter frosts may have broken down large lumps, and repeated re-digging or forking will to help to get the crumbly texture mentioned in gardening books.  Many of us will use our trusty spades, forks and hoes to do this work, but depending on the size of your garden and the state of your back, a cultivator could be a worthwhile purchase. Dig in plenty of organic matter to add nutrients and improve the soil’s structure and fertility (garden compost, manure, leaf mould or composted bark) – about half a wheelbarrow load per square metre should do it.

Manure In Hand
Photo: Well-Rotted Manure – Riverside Quarry

Work through your beds and borders forking over the soil between plants to loosen it up, removing weeds and plant debris as well as slugs and snails as you go.   Work from the back of the bed to the front to avoid compacting the soil.

When it’s weed-free, spread a layer of mulch around plants.  Mulching will save you time and work for the rest of the season by suppressing weeds, reducing evaporation (so less watering) and encouraging worms to drag the organic matter down into the soil to improve the structure.