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23-09-21

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The Best Garden Tillers According to Hyperenthusiastic Reviewers

    Here at the Strategist, we like to think of ourselves as crazy (in the good way) about the stuff we buy, but as much as we’d like to, we can’t try everything. Which is why we have People’s Choice, in which we find the best-reviewed products and single out the most convincing ones. (You can learn more about our rating system and how we pick each item here.)

    And while we’ve written about lots of landscaping gear before — including garden hoses and leaf blowers — here, we’ve rounded up the best garden tillers as praised by the most enthusiastic reviewers on Amazon. 

    More than 40 percent of reviewers describe this electric garden tiller as powerful. One reviewer, who used this on a flower bed that hadn’t been tended to in decade, said, “It powered through everything, the roots of old rosemary shrubs, weed stems, larger chunks of old mulch, it ground them all up and dug deep into the dirt and mixed it all up nice.” Another reviewer, working with hard clay soil, writes, “It practically cut through concrete and was able to go to a depth of 6-8.” But reviewers with soft soil like it too: “The soil itself was fairly soft and unchallenging, but even at that, I was shocked at how quickly this tiller busted it up into a surprisingly fluffy soil.” Many also say it’s easy to operate and appreciate that it comes almost completely assembled. Plus, it’s electric, which is a huge selling point for many. “Unlike my gas ones though, it’s easy to turn it off, and it actually starts right back up again, doesn’t stink, and you don’t run out of gas halfway through … so far has made short, albeit back breaking, work of tilling up my garden,” explains one reviewer. The only fear one reviewer has is that it has “almost has too much power, so you have to be careful when you hit a rock or thick root as you can break a tine or overheat the motor; but the quick release stop works great.”

    “I didn’t have high expectations for this product considering its low price, it being electric, and the toughness of the dirt where I live,” writes one reviewer, but their fears were eased once this tiller arrived. “As soon as I pressed the power button, this thing took off like a rocket. I live in north Georgia, right at the North Carolina line and our soil here isn’t all that friendly when it comes to landscaping or digging because of the thick red clay and large natural stones. This tiller dug in without any issue.” And much like our best-rated tiller, this one from Earthwise also gets a lot of praise for its smaller size, especially for those with small gardens or flower beds. “Used this to till for a 20x20 foot wildflower plot,” one reviewer writes. “Did a great job of cutting through the fairly thin turf and the clay soil, tilling down a few inches.” Another says, “It was very easy to put together and has just the right amount of power needed in a flower bed.” And one says, “There is enough power to even work through the hard clay we have.” The flip side, however, is that “It takes more passes than a full size tiller because it is small, but overall I still think it was easier because it is just so easy to use.”

    “This thing really is the little roto-tiller that could,” one reviewer writes of this Sun Joe machine. “We have VERY heavy clay soil that is full of rocks/stones and roots ranging from pencil thickness to several inches in diameter. This bad boy took it all on no problem. It simply chucks the rocks out of the way.” And though it looks like a toy, one reviewer swears, “This machine is a BEAST. I tilled up a hundred square feet of rock-hard ground that is a clay and river cobble mixture to a depth of six to eight inches in short order.” Many say this is also the ideal tiller for a small garden. “My vegetable garden is about 20 by 35, it is a rear tine tiller for something around that size,” one says, while another used it to till their 360-square-foot “garden area in an hour or less.” And while many reviewers prefer electric tillers to gas ones because they don’t require multiple cranks to start up and you don’t have to fuss with mixing gas and oil to fuel it, one downside is needing to plug in with a cord. However, it’s not a dealbreaker. As one reviewer explains, “The cord is a pain, but I have found a way to control it and don’t have to worry about having enough gas in the gas cans.”

    This Sun Joe electric garden tiller is nearly the same as the one previously mentioned, but it’s got a slightly more powerful motor with 13.5 amps, rather than 12. And according to one reviewer, “No regrets paying more for the 13.5 amp motor.” They describe it as a beast, explaining, “My backyard had a mulched area that was kept in disarray by the previous owner. I wanted to get rid of the iris, weed and other undesirable plants. This tiller shredded the area pulling out the weed and the roots.” Others agree that the extra power gets any size job done. “I tilled ground that was clay and compacted with rocks, buried pieces of wood, fabric pieces decomposing, beer bottles,” one writes, adding, “The tiller cut through this like butter.” Another says, “I did an area about 40x25 in no time on our first nice day, and it never lacked for power.” And even though it packs a punch, it is still easy to handle, according to more than a quarter of reviewers. One reports it “handles as easily as a vacuum cleaner albeit more bouncy.” One word of warning, since this tiller is not cordless: You’ll need “AT LEAST a 14-gauge extension cord … Long runs over 50-feet will need 12-gauge which isn’t cheap but nice cables to have anyways.”

    While reviewers admit this tiller isn’t powerful enough to break through new ground, they do say it’s ideal for mixing up soil in their flower beds. “I have 200 sq ft of 4x4 raised beds and this is perfect for turning over the soil in the whole box or just a space between plants,” says one reviewer. Another who calls this “a kitchen mixing machine for the soil” says, “It’s not a tractor, it instead is great for breaking up soil in one spot, like if you want to plant something like a rose bush and you need to break up the soil and/or mix in soil amendments.” Another compares it to an egg-beater, because “it loosens dirt adequately to about a 4-inch depth and keeps me off my aging knees.” The fact that it’s cordless keeps this tiller lightweight and easy-to-operate, too. Reviewers say batteries last between 30 minutes and an hour, enough for these smaller projects, though one reports that one charge “made it for 2+ thorough passes of a 15X3 ft space.”

    “This little machine will dig to China if you let it,” says one reviewer, and 75 percent of reviewers give this Mantis gas tiller five stars. One reviewer, with “decades of experience with Mantis tillers,” says, “You really can convert an established lawn into a plantable bed without first scraping off the sod” with this thing. Another says that despite the power, it’s still “very easy to make it till or cultivate.” They continue, “Rocks I couldn’t see did not stop this mean machine.” And while some note it works in their small gardens, others have taken this to their entire backyard: “We did an entire backyard border with the Mantis tiller and it did an amazingly excellent job of prepping the soil. It was powerful, dug deep for planting shrubs and whatever we wanted. Cleaning it is a breeze and its light weight makes it very enjoyable to use.” As for fuel, one user says, “I can till my entire garden on less than a tank.”

    “It is light, but, man, does it dig in,” one reviewer says of this four-cycle gas tiller. One says it’s “Great for gardening, installing landscaping beds, trenching for rock borders, Hell, I even used mine to dig a 3-foot deep trench for a drain-tiled downspout.” The main advantage of this four-cycle tiller, compared to the two-cycle above, is that it doesn’t require a mix of oil and gas. That means the set-up is pretty quick. “Thirty minutes out of the box to tines in the ground. Oiled, gassed up, and primed, it started on the second pull; bonus, it’s quiet,” one reviewer writes. Another says it “has the torque and ease of operation wrapped into one unit,” and others say it also offers more control. “It really digs in when tilling and In an established garden, you can get right in around your plants without destroying half the garden.”

    Bob Crewe is an expert on garden tillers, but when he needed one at his suburban Chicago home, he rented it.

    That's about to change.

    "This might be the season when I finally pick one up," said Crewe, who works for Power Equipment Direct, an online home equipment store. "If you already have one waiting for you, you're more apt to go out and get to it."

    The advantages of owning or renting a mini tractor -- or its smaller cousin, a cultivator -- are many.

    Tillers and cultivators are useful for turning soil, mixing in compost and fertilizer for soil amendment and loosening soil to help water reach plant roots.

    Gardeners are firing up their tillers now to prepare flower beds and vegetable gardens for planting. This year's early spring has brought strong demand for tillers, said Joseph Cohen, CEO of Snow Joe, a garden equipment company headquartered in Edison, N.J.

    "No one expected to be in the garden this early. I've never seen demand this early," Cohen said.

    In summer, tillers and cultivators can weed between vegetable rows, said Barbara Hastings, senior manager of marketing and communication for Troy-Bilt brand of outdoor equipment. The company is headquartered in Valley City.

    Come fall, tillers plough garden waste back into the soil to decompose over the winter, Hastings said.

    Many homeowners like to rent a tiller just for a few hours, and let someone else deal with maintenance and storage. Fees at tool rental companies can run from $29 for a two-hour rental of a small tiller up to $85 for a 24-hour rental of a large unit. Rental companies typically ask for a deposit.

    But, when you rent a tiller, transportation is your headache. That means lifting a heavy unit in and out of the car, and protecting the car trunk from dirt and mud, Crewe said. You may also need to wash and dry the tiller before returning it.

    If you rent a tiller every year, the fees will soon equal what a new tool would cost. Plus, owning a tiller means no more working with one eye on the clock.

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