Cultivator vs Tiller – What is the Difference Between Them?

Last Updated on June 15, 2023 by Grow with Bovees

Cultivator vs tiller? Two words gardeners use interchangeably, but they are two completely different tools. Garden tillers and cultivators can be manual tools or power tools run by engines or power outlets.

Both tools are great for creating flower beds or a garden, and other maintenance tasks, but it’s important to understand the differences so that you can pick the right tool for your planting project.

Cultivators and tillers are pieces of equipment that look similar to each other, but each is designed to perform a unique function in your garden, and these tasks aren’t interchangeable. ‘

Using a tiller instead of a cultivator or vice versa would be like using a fork to stir cake mix or a power mixer to toss salad.  

Cultivating vs Tilling

Cultivating is an old simple practice of loosening the soil and dirt in the ground. This practice removes weeds from the garden and loosens the soil for better retention of nutrients.

Soil that’s cultivated also makes it easier for newly germinated seeds of plants to sprout. What exactly is tiling, and how is it different from cultivating?

When you cultivate, you should only loosen a couple of inches deep into the soil because cultivating too deeply will only cause the surface of the land to dry out faster.

Tilling is the process of digging deeper into the ground and is an essential task when preparing a new garden bed or when adding large amounts of organic material, such as compost.

Cultivator vs Tiller – What’s the Difference?

A garden cultivator is a recommended option for stirring up already loose soil to apply nutrients, and/or help with weeding.

Cultivators are fitted with tines rather than blades and feature a lightweight frame that doesn’t dig too deeply into the root zone. A corded cultivator or manual cultivator grinds the soil into a fine texture, which makes this piece of equipment a go-to choice for final bed preparation before sowing seeds.

A tiller contrarily is a much bigger, and heavier manual or electrical garden tool compared to a cultivator. Adding to this, tillers are equipped with larger diameter tines, which makes these powerful tools a great choice for breaking up hard soil on rocky ground, tough ground, firm ground or even agricultural ground.

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Both tillers and cultivators feature metal tines, which can be located at the front or the back, but the tines of a tiller are covered with a guard.

Types of Cultivators

There are four types of cultivators, each of which has its tines connected to the frame with clamps. They are available as gas-powered machines as well as electric-powered (corded and cordless) models.

Gas-powered cultivators are powered by the smallest two-stroke engines, so there’s a bit of extra work involved in mixing the right proportions of gas and fuel to get them up and running.

1. Spring tine cultivator

Spring tine cultivators use heavy-duty springs and are mostly available as manual, handheld models. This type of cultivator works well for aerating the soil and uprooting weeds, and its spring tines are designed to bend backward and spring forward.

The DeWit spring tine cultivator features a lightweight and compact footprint and is ideal for cultivating soil with roots and rocks.

It comes with a forged trowel and forged hand fork, so you get three tools for your daily garden maintenance tasks.

2. Rotary cultivator

A rotary cultivator is suitable equipment for preparing the soil for new planting or optimizing the condition of the soil for existing plantings in flower and vegetable gardens.

These pieces of equipment are fitted with sharp rotating tines that are typically made from steel or aluminum and can be ordered in different types and sizes.

The Rocklin Industry rotary cultivator is crafted from hardened stainless steel, and aluminum, so you can rest assured it will serve you well for years to come.

It features longer 1.5-inch spikes than other rotary cultivators for deep cultivation and aeration. Adding to this, this rotary cultivator comes with a telescopic handle that can be adjusted between 40-inches to 60-inches.

3. Mounted cultivators

Mounted cultivators are used in agricultural or large size environments, and are connected to the back or front of a tractor or truck, especially row-crop tractors.

Unlike home-use cultivators that are powered by a 150cc engine, 2-cycle engines, or 4-cycle engines, electricity, or rechargeable batteries, mounted cultivators simply attach to the back or front of the truck or tractor, and do not require any type of power or fuel source.

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The Field King mounted cultivator is an industrial-grade model that’s designed for light and medium soils. It can be used for proper aeration and cutting of soils and features adjustable tines, which do not need a separate steel spring.

4. Rigid tine garden cultivator .

Rigid tine cultivators are fitted with tines that do not deflect during the work in your plot of land, therefore are a great option for loose dirt, chunks of dirt, and tough compact soil.

The Kings County rigid tine cultivator features broad sharp tines and is made from premium quality materials. It comes with a long handle and tips the scales at just 2.49 lbs.

Types of Tillers

There are three types of garden tillers namely front-tine tillers, rear-tine tillers, and vertical-tine tillers, where each garden tiller has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Front-tine tiller

A garden tiller with a pair of tines in front of the wheels is called a front-tine tiller. Front-tine tillers are less powerful than the other types of garden tillers, but on a brighter note are easy to maneuver, and offer great performance in narrow rows. Front-tine garden tillers are a good choice to break through compact soil, but not for solid ground.

The Tazz 35310 is a two-in-one machine that’s fitted with a robust 79cc Viper engine. Even though it doesn’t come with a more powerful 212cc engine, the Tazz front-tine tiller has just the right amount of power to work through any soil conditions.

Plus, it offers two-in-one versatility, in that it can be converted from a tiller into a cultivator, so you get two tools with one purchase.

If you want an electric corded option in the front-tine tiller space, the LawnMaster TE1318W1 machine is worth a second look. It comes with a power switch, which allows you to plug the machine into any electrical outlet.

Rear-tine tiller

A rear-tine tiller offers intense power and is in fact the most powerful type of tillers available. This stronger tool doesn’t offer great maneuverability, owing to its size and weight, but is a preferred choice for breaking a new solid plot of land.

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As you might have guessed, the tines of rear-tine garden tillers are located behind the wheels, which can either rotate forward or with a rotating counter on tracts of land.

The CRAFTSMAN 16 is a gas-powered rear-tine tiller that comes with a 208-cc engine. This is one of the few rear-tine tillers with a quieter engine and is equipped with 10 steel tines and four counter-rotating tines to help prepare and maintain gardens.

Vertical-tine tiller

A vertical-tine tine tiller is a relatively new entree in the tiller space but has become increasingly popular for several reasons. Vertical-tine tillers differ from the other two types of tiller because instead of cutting downwards, they cut forward through the soil. As a result, they are much faster at the job, and also minimize fatigue and reduce vibrations.

The Troy-Bilt Bronco AXIS vertical-tine tiller features vertical tines that work in unison to create the smoothest, fastest, tilling experience. It can be operated with just one hand and is a popular option in this segment.

How to Use a Cultivator and Tiller?

Before starting your cultivator, it’s highly important that you check that they are loaded with the correct blades (durable blades-tines), and they are in good working order.

Next, remove any large rocks or obstructions, lift the tines off the ground, and power on the automatic gardening tool. Be sure to wear safety glasses and other protective gear when using a tiller or a cultivator, because these tools (cultivator and tiller) dig deep into the ground to mix soil in the existing planting area or entire garden.

Get a good grip on the machine, and let it do the work. Walk the tiller or cultivator slowly, and overlap the space covered with each pass.

Final Thoughts

Both garden tillers and cultivators are handy tools to have in your gardening arsenal and are designed for two different tasks.

Cultivators are less powerful than tillers and are geared towards tasks such as breaking ground or loosening hard soil. Tillers are designed for digging and mixing hard soil when preparing a new garden. There you have it, the difference between cultivator vs tiller.