Tiller Basics

By National Gardening Association Editors

Whether your garden is a small bed of cutting flowers or a big vegetable garden whose bounty is preserved for year around use, there is a power tiller matched to the task.

At the small end of the spectrum are the small cultivators weighing less than 25 pounds. So-called "mini-tillers," these are hand-held or supported by small wheels that allow blades to be maneuvered around plants. The revolving blades can:

* Turn over small existing garden plots in spring to prepare them for planting.

* Help to dig holes for planting by allowing the blades to dig in.

* Weed around plants and cultivate the soil, allowing air and moisture to penetrate the soil.

Some versions with optional attachments can:

* Create edges along the borders of garden plots.

* Dig furrows for planting beans, corn and potatoes.

* Remove thatch from lawns.

* Help aerate lawns.

In the mid-range are the front-tined tillers that are used to cultivate large garden areas.

The most powerful tillers are machines that have power to the wheels and rear tines. They come in a variety of sizes ranging from small versions for suburban gardens to large models used by landscapers.

These are the "sodbusters" that will turn lawn into garden space (although it will take several passes) and turn organic matter directly into the soil in a form of "power composting."

Like their smaller brothers, some versions allow the owner to remove the tilling machinery and attach other tools to the power head, such as a sickle bar mower, chipper/shredder, snow thrower, and lawn mower.

While tilling the garden by hand can be good exercise, a power cultivator or tiller quickly becomes a gardener's favorite tool.

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