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FAQs about Rototillers

What is the difference between a Cultivator and a Rototiller?

Cultivators are usually lightweight implements designed to turn over the soil in established garden beds. They are narrow enough (6-16”) to be used between planted rows throughout the gardening season to keep weeds down. Most cultivators feature smaller 2- or 4-stroke engines. For a small plot with loose soil (such as a raised bed garden), a cultivator may provide all the soil preparation required.

... Cultivators are narrow enough to use between planted rows.

Rototillers are heavier, wider (16-22” for walk-behind tillers) and have somewhat larger 4-stroke engines. The term “rototiller” usually refers to walk-behind tillers. Depending on the type (see next question), walk-behind tillers are designed for preparing garden seedbeds and/or breaking ground for new gardens.

... Tillers are wider and more powerful for preparing seedbeds or breaking ground.

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What are the different types of Walk-Behind Rototillers?

Walk-behind tillers with forward rotating tines (FRT) are suitable for use in established gardens in soils that do not become overly compacted. The forward time rotation turns the soil and propels the machine forward. The operator can make the FRT tilling action more aggressive by holding it back, resisting the tiller’s tendency to “walk” across the surface.

Tillers with counter rotating tines (CRT) have the additional power needed for sod-busting or breaking up very compacted soil. They feature powered wheels to propel the tiller forward and work in opposition to the reverse tine rotation. Engines on CRT machines, because they power both the wheels and the tines, tend to be more powerful than those on FRT tillers.

... Front Tine (FRT) versus Rear Tine or Counter-Rotating (CRT)

Finally, a walk-behind tiller with dual rotating tines (DRT) can function as either an FRT or CRT tiller depending on the task.

Functionally, FRT tillers tend to be easier to use than CRT tillers, but they are also more limited in what they can accomplish. CRT Tillers, because of the “fight” between the forward-rotating wheels and the counter rotating tines, tend to jounce around during operation and can, at times, be a challenge to hold onto. But that “fight” is precisely what gives them the ability to break ground. A DRT tiller has the benefit of transitioning easily between the two modes.

... A Dual-Rotating Tine Tiller (DRT) has the best of both worlds: smooth operation in loose soil, and ample power for compacted ground.

What other types of rototillers are there besides Walk-Behind Rototillers?

Tow-Behind Tillers (self-powered) are CRT tillers with their own engines that are towed behind an ATV, UTV, or a garden tractor. They are typically wider than walk-behind tillers (~36”) and designed for tilling larger gardens and/or food plots. They have plenty of power for breaking ground.

Agricultural Tillers are tractor mounted. They can be powered by the tractor (PTO) or can simply be unpowered, ground-engaging implements.

What advantages does a tow-behind tiller have vs. a walk-behind tiller?

Tow-behind tillers require that you own an appropriate tow vehicle, but they offer several advantages for those with larger gardens or for those who want to prepare food plots.

  1. Tow-behind tillers are roughly twice as wide as walk-behind tillers so you can get the work done faster.
  2. Because you are seated on a tow-behind tiller, there is nothing to hold onto and no “work” to do beyond driving the tow vehicle.
  3. Tow-behind tillers are significantly heavier than walk-behinds and, combined with the weight of the tow vehicle, it is easier to till smoothly and get a consistently deeper churn than with a walk-behind tiller.
... Tow-Behind Tillers are great for preparing larger gardens and food plots.

Can a rototiller be used for anything besides garden preparation?

While rototillers are most often associated with spring garden preparation, they are also valuable end-of-season tools. After harvesting, you can use a rototiller to “till under” the leftover garden vegetation. This jump starts the composting process and will enrich your soil for future seedbeds.