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11 Best Tillers for Breaking New Ground

A man uses a tiller to break new ground for a garden

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Starting a new garden is an exciting venture: What bounty of vegetables and flowers might come from this piece of earth!

But the process of transforming the ground into a hospitable plant home can be challenging. Not only do you have established grass or other vegetation to contend with, the dirt itself is also likely settled and firm. 

But people start new gardens every year, and with the right equipment, you can too!

In this article, you’ll discover our top choices for the best tillers for breaking new ground. You’ll also pick up some helpful shopping tips and answers to some common questions. 

Let’s dive in!

RELATED: You’ll need more than just a tiller to tend your garden all season! Check out our list of 15 Classic Tools Used for Gardening and make sure you have the essentials!

No doubt about it, this machine is an absolute beast! Regardless of the size or current condition of your future garden, the Pioneer can get the job done.

The Pioneer utilizes a rear-tine design with wide-set wheels for excellent stability and maneuverability. Even though this is a big, heavy machine, the expertly balanced construction means that you shouldn’t run into any control or steering issues. 

The gas-powered engine features a single cylinder and 99cc displacement for superior power that rips through grass, rocky soil or clay. At just over half a gallon, the fuel capacity should be enough to see you through several hours of work.

Sometimes, after tilling a stretch of ground, you decide that it needs a second pass in reverse. This can be a fiddly business with some tillers. However, the Pioneer has a unique shift handle that lets you quickly and easily change directions with a simple pull.

The wheels have an airless design that eliminates the worry of getting a flat in the middle of your job. Solid wheels tend to lack the grip of pneumatic rubber tires, but the Pioneer more than makes up for it with deep lugs for excellent traction. 

Given the number of features, smart construction and power the Earthquake Pioneer has to offer, it’s really not surprising that you’re looking at dropping a pretty significant amount of cash.

However, if you have extensive gardening plans over the coming years, making the investment now can save you time, money and effort in the long run. 

  • Product weight: 160 pounds
  • Engine type: Gas-powered 90cc Viper single cylinder
  • Tiller depth: 10 inches
  • Tiller width: 16 inches
  • Number of tines: 4
  • Tine rotation speed: 200 RPM
  • Warranty: 5-year limited warranty
  • Wheel type: No-flat wheels with deep lug pattern

Pros

Cons

2. Sun Joe TJ604E 16-Inch Electric Tiller/Cultivator

Whether you’re dealing with sun-baked soil or numerous small roots, this tiller from Sun Joe takes care of it all with ease. 

This tiller runs on a fully electric motor, so there’s no need to worry about running out of gas or oil. 

And don’t think that an electric motor isn’t powerful: This tiller spins at an impressive 370 RPM! Also, it’s easy to start your tiller with a simple on/off button, sparing you from several pulls of the ripcord. 

One great thing about this tiller is the adjustability factor. The wheels have three height settings, so you can get to work comfortably no matter how tall or short you are. What’s more, the handle also folds out of the way when it’s time to store your tiller away.

Weighing just 27 pounds, this tiller certainly fits into the featherweight category! This can come in very handy for transporting and storage, but the light frame tends to run along the soil’s surface.

When you want to till deeply, plan on using extra upper-body strength to push the tiller downwards. 

  • Product weight: 27.1 pounds
  • Engine type: 13.5-amp corded electric
  • Tiller depth: 8 inches
  • Tiller width: 16 inches
  • Number of tines: 6
  • Tine rotation speed: 370 PRM
  • Warranty: 2-year limited warranty
  • Wheel type: No-flat wheels with tread

Pros

Cons

3. Earthwise TC70001 11-Inch Corded Tiller

For those small areas where you’re envisioning a new garden, this tiller from Earthwise offers an attractive combination of power, compact size and affordability. 

This tiller cuts an 11-inch path through grass, small roots and heavy soil like a champ. The tines dig 8 inches deep, giving you plenty of loose soil to work with after tilling.

The tines spin at an impressive 320 RPM, and the 8.5-amp motor provides a good amount of power without the concern of over-stressing your extension cord. 

One drawback to the fast speed is that it gives the tiller a tendency to bounce or buck while you’re working. So plan to use some concentration and upper body strength to maintain good control. 

Even though you may be in for a bumpy ride, the padded, ergonomic handlebar is easy to grip while also taking some of the stress off your hands.

Two rear wheels are a nice addition for extra control and stability when working on rough ground. And if the situation calls for it, you have the option to flip the wheels upward and out of the way.

The quick-start button is located conveniently on the handlebar. No ripcords here! The only gripe is that you have to depress the safety lever with one hand while reaching awkwardly with the other to start. 

  • Product weight: 27.4 pounds
  • Engine type: 8.5-amp corded electric
  • Tiller depth: 8 inches
  • Tiller width: 11 inches
  • Number of tines: 4
  • Tine rotation speed: 320 RPM
  • Warranty: 2-year limited warranty
  • Wheel type: Airless molded

Pros

Cons

4. Tacklife Advanced 18-Inch Corded Tiller

Even though this tiller looks like your standard walk-behind front-tine style, it’s got a few helpful features that set it apart.

Tacklife added a couple of smart safety features that you don’t see too often on tillers:

  • A two-step on/off switch prevents you from accidentally starting your motor before you’re ready.
  • The braking system keeps the powerful motor in check and lets you work at a comfortable, safe pace. 

As the photo above shows, this tiller has a set of six counter-rotating tines. This set-up works great for tearing up tough soil in the fall or spring. When you just want to do some maintenance cultivating in the summer, remove the two outer tines for a narrow tilling width. 

A tiller is one of those tools that only comes out a few times a year at most, so it spends most of its time in storage.

If your storage space is at a premium, then you’ll appreciate that Tacklife added a clever collapsing mechanism. Your off-duty tiller folds down to just 25.2 inches long, 21.7 wide and 17.7 inches tall, so you won’t need to trip over it all winter long. 

One thing that may be a concern for some folks is that this tiller works far better when pulled backward rather than pushed forward.

You can operate your tiller by pushing it forward, but you’ll have to work much harder. And you’ll probably end up with sore arms and hands for a couple of days afterward. 

If you have any difficulties walking backward safely, you may want to look at a different model. 

  • Product weight: 27.9 pounds
  • Engine type: 13.5-amp corded electric
  • Tiller depth: 8 inches
  • Tiller width: 18- and 12.5- inch settings
  • Number of tines: 6 or 4 
  • Tine rotation speed: 380 RPM
  • Warranty: 2-year limited warranty
  • Wheel type: Airless molded 

Pros

Cons

5. Champion 19-Inch Dual-Rotating Rear Tine Tiller

Looking to break up that stubborn ground with the fewest tiller passes possible? Thanks to an impressive tilling width and rear-tine power, this machine delivers! 

At 19 inches wide, this tiller offers one of the widest cutting paths for a rear-tine model. This lets you cover more ground with each pass, thus reducing the time you’ll spend preparing your ground. 

And the gas tank is generous at 0.9 gallons, so you should have plenty of fuel to see you through the entire job.

The oil compartment is also large at 0.6 quarts, and a low-oil safety shut-off prevents you from accidentally burning the motor up. As a helpful extra touch, Champion Power Equipment includes a bottle of oil with the purchase of your tiller. 

At 161 pounds, this machine is undoubtedly a heavy piece of equipment. But self-propelled wheels roll along of their own accord, making it a breeze to move across bumpy soil. 

The 13-inch pneumatic rubber tires provide some extra traction and shock absorption, and their large size helps prevent getting stuck. 

However, the inner tubes seem to have a tendency to puncture rather easily. To save yourself some time and hassle, be sure to keep some spare tubes on hand. 

  • Product weight: 161 pounds
  • Engine type: Gas-powered 212cc 
  • Tiller depth: 8 inches
  • Tiller width: 19 inches
  • Number of tines: 4
  • Tine rotation speed: Not stated
  • Warranty: 2-year limited warranty
  • Wheel type: 13-inch rubber tires with pneumatic tubes

Pros

Cons

6. Earthquake 20015 Versa Front Tine Tiller

Do you need the powerful engine of the Earthquake Pioneer we covered in spot #1 but want a little more flexibility? The Earthquake Versa may be a perfect solution. 

The Versa’s long, strong tines reach deep into the ground, tilling soil 11 inches deep. This is perfect for bringing up that healthy, nutrient-rich soil that can help your new garden thrive. 

Weeds are always the bane of a gardener’s life, and they can be especially troublesome in a brand-new garden plot. The Versa cleverly addresses this problem with removable outer tines.

This feature allows you to convert your powerhouse tiller into a narrow cultivator for keeping the weeds down in between rows of plants. Not only that, but the removal process is a snap and doesn’t require any tools. 

As a front-tine model, the Versa is a great choice if you’re looking to re-establish a compacted garden plot that’s fallen into disuse. 

Like the Pioneer model, the Versa has a fuel capacity of 0.53 gallons, so you should get plenty of work time before it’s time to refuel. 

One downside is that the assembly process can be a challenge. Especially if this is your first time assembling a machine, make sure to set aside a good chunk of time. 

  • Product weight: 75 pounds
  • Engine type: Gas-powered 99cc 4-cycle Viper
  • Tiller depth: 11 inches
  • Tiller width: 11, 16 and 21 inch settings
  • Number of tines: 4
  • Tine rotation speed: 163 RPM
  • Warranty: 5-year limited warranty
  • Wheel type: Airless solid wheels

Pros

Cons

7. Mantis 7940 4-Cycle Gas-Powered Cultivator

Don’t be fooled by the small size: Be it rock-hard clay, large dirt clods or grass roots, the Mantis pulverizes it into soft planting soil in no time. 

If you’ve ever used an ultra-lightweight tiller before, you may have struggled against a tendency to ride along the surface of the soil. Since they have so little weight to hold them down, this can be a common problem with small tillers.

Not so with the Mantis! Even though it weighs just 24 pounds, the Mantis overcomes this issue in a couple of ways:

  • All tiller tines have some degree of curve to them, but the Mantis uses a specialized curve pattern that digs downward instead of forward.
  • The tine speed is a little slower at 240 RPM, but the gear-driven transmission delivers greater efficiency on each rotation. 

Comfort-grip handles are another nice touch on the Mantis. A rubberized outer coating provides comfy cushioning, and the flared ends help you maintain control without having to hold the handles in a death grip. 

In addition to tilling, your Mantis can also accomplish several other outdoor tasks. Flip your tines in the opposite direction, and you’re ready for shallow cultivation or removing pesky weeds. You can also purchase various accessories that turn your tiller into an aerator, de-thatcher and more. 

Even though the Mantis has enough power to handle large garden plots, the smaller size could translate into a long work time. If you have an expansive area to work with, you may want to look at a larger machine. 

  • Product weight: 24 pounds
  • Engine type: Gas-powered 25cc 4-cycle Honda 
  • Tiller depth: 10 inches
  • Tiller width: 9 inches
  • Number of tines: 4
  • Tine rotation speed: 240 RPM
  • Warranty: 2-year limited warranty
  • Wheel type: None

Pros

Cons

8. Tazz 35310 2-in-1 Front Tine Tiller/Cultivator

Does the idea of using a tiller customized to your needs sound good to you? If so, you’ll appreciate the various ways your can set your Tazz tiller to fit your preferences and the task at hand!

Here are the points of adjustment Tazz built in:

  • Choose between 3 tilling widths. The outer tines and side-shield plates are removable, giving you the option for a till path that’s 21, 16 or 11 inches wide. 
  • Choose your tilling depth. Tazz included an adjustable drag stake that allows you to set your preferred depth, up to 11 inches deep. 
  • Choose your handle height. You don’t see this feature on a tiller very often! Set your handles at one of 4 height options, and say goodbye to hunching over or stretching up.

Another nice point is the low center of gravity. The heaviest part of the tiller (the engine) sits low to the ground, so you have built-in stability that reduces your effort to maintain balance and forward progress. 

Besides the well-designed frame, you also get a 4-cycle gas engine with 79cc of displacement- plenty of power for quickly accomplishing various jobs. Not only can you till up hard-packed soil in the spring, but you can also mulch up dead foliage or aerate your garden plot in the fall. 

Even though you can look forward to speedy outdoor work, getting there can be a different story. The assembly process is fairly intricate, so plan to set aside at least a couple of hours to get your tiller in working order. 

  • Product weight: 83.8 pounds
  • Engine type: Gas-powered 79cc Viper 4-cycle
  • Tiller depth: Adjustable up to 11 inches
  • Tiller width: 21-, 16- and 11-inch settings
  • Number of tines: 4
  • Tine rotation speed: Not stated
  • Warranty: 3-year limited warranty
  • Wheel type: No-flat rubber tires

Pros

Cons

9. Earthwise TC70016 16-Inch 13.5-Amp Corded Electric Tiller

For a compact, lightweight corded electric tiller, this one packs a true power punch.

You get 13.5 amps of power from this motor, which is about the highest you’ll see on electric tillers. Small roots, sun-baked clay and rocky soil don’t stand a chance!

Despite its lightweight frame, this tiller can clear a path that’s 16 inches wide. Combined with the surprisingly high tine speed, you should be looking at getting small to medium gardens prepared in no time flat.  

And when you need to work in between established garden plants/rows, remove the outer tines to narrow your cutting path. 

The generously padded, ergonomic handlebar is another noteworthy feature. Instead of separate hand grips, you have a full-length handlebar with a safety-release bar, much like a standard push mower. This design helps reduce hand stress and fatigue, so you can see your entire job through with less discomfort. 

The only downside is releasing the safety bar. Since the tiller’s motor is so powerful, managing to let go of the bar while maintaining control can be a little tricky. So use caution!

  • Product weight: 34.8 pounds
  • Engine type: 13.5-amp corded electric 
  • Tiller depth: 8 inches
  • Tiller width: 16 or 11 inches
  • Number of tines: 6 or 4
  • Tine rotation speed: 360 RPM
  • Warranty: 2-year limited warranty
  • Wheel type: Airless solid

Pros

Cons

10. Sun Joe TJ600E 14-Inch Electric Tiller/Cultivator

Given its diminutive size and overall weight, it’s kind of surprising that this tiller packs enough power to break new ground. But it does!

The smallest model on our list, this tiller could be a perfect fit if you only plan to convert a small patch of ground into a new garden and you don’t want to make a big investment.

A 6.5-amp electric motor tears through short grass and hard clay. And at 7 inches deep and 14 inches wide, the tilling capabilities are pretty much on par with larger models. 

One nice feature is the exceptional maneuverability this tiller has to offer. The lightweight design is obviously a plus here, but the wide-set handgrips also give you better control and stability. 

The corded design spares you from having to deal with the headaches that can sometimes result from small gas-powered engines and batteries. And no worries about running out of gas or battery life mid-job!

One gripe is that there isn’t much of a dirt shield over the outer tines. This means that anything lying along your tilling path could end up getting sprayed in fresh dirt. 

  • Product weight: 18.7 pounds
  • Engine type: 6.5-amp corded electric
  • Tiller depth: 7 inches
  • Tiller width: 14 inches
  • Number of tines: 4
  • Tine rotation speed: Not stated
  • Warranty: 2-year limited warranty
  • Wheel type: None

Pros

Cons

11. Hattomen Electric Garden Tiller

This tiller from Hattomen has several similarities to the Sun Joe TJ600E we just looked at in spot #10.

Both models have corded electric motors, lightweight frames, no wheels and the same 14-inch tilling width. Handling, start/stop, terrain capabilities and price point are all fairly comparable as well. 

But there are a few significant differences that can help you determine if the Hattomen model might be better for you:

  • A larger, more powerful motor in this model: 8.5 amps vs 6.5 amps.
  • An extra inch of tilling depth: 8 inches vs 7 inches. 
  • Each tine has four arms for a total of 16 vs two arms per tine for a total of eight. 
  • Wider dirt shield for keeping things a little more tidy.

While both tillers are great options for small garden plots and raised beds, this model from Hattomen has more brawn to offer. Not only is the motor larger by 2 amps, but you also double your tilling efficiency with 16 arms spinning at a whopping 380 RPM. 

All in all, this model might be the better choice if your garden plot is medium-sized, or you think you may want to break more ground in the coming years. 

However, one cause for concern is that this is a fairly new item on the market, so there isn’t much information on long-term performance and durability.

  • Product weight: 18.76 pounds
  • Engine type: 8.5-amp corded electric 
  • Tiller depth: 8 inches
  • Tiller width: 14 inches
  • Number of tines: 4
  • Tine rotation speed: 380 RPM
  • Warranty: Not stated
  • Wheel type: None

Pros

Cons

The Best Tiller for Breaking new Ground: Buying Guide

So now you’ve had a look at several great options for tilling up that fresh patch of ground. But which one is actually right for your needs?

Buy one that’s too big, and you’ll end up spending unnecessary cash (and nobody likes that!). Buy one that’s too small, and you’ll pay for it with your time and frustration (nobody like that, either). 

In this section, we’ll break down various features/components and address a few frequently asked questions. 

What's Better: Rear-Tine or Front-Tine?

The answer is: It depends. 

No question, gas-powered rear-tine models offer top performance when it comes to power and the ability to tackle a large space. But especially if you’re in an urban setting or working on establishing a small garden, rear-tine models are awkward to maneuver and their powerful engines are overkill. 

As a general rule of thumb:

  • If you’re looking to start an extensive garden or you have extremely poor soil conditions (think large rocks and roots that are 1/2-inch+ in diameter), a rear-time tiller is almost always your best option. 
  • If you’re starting a small to medium-sized garden and you’re only dealing with small roots and rocks, a front-tine model will probably work just fine. 

Gas Engines Vs Electric Motors

Another key difference between tillers is whether they’re powered by gas engines or electric motors.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each type:

Pros of Gas Engines

  • Packs the most power.
  • Perfect for large jobs or poor soil conditions.
  • No extension cords to worry about.
  • Designed for durability and typically have the longest lifespan.
  • Can often be repaired by small-engine specialists.
  • Heavy frames result in less bouncing and jolting during work. 

Cons of Gas Engines

  • Usually at the top of the price scale. 
  • Tend to be very loud.
  • Need frequent refueling.
  • May require gas/oil mixture. 
  • Vulnerable to all the typical problems of small engines. 
  • Produces exhaust fumes.
  • Heavy frames can be difficult to maneuver.
  • Ripcord starter can be difficult for some people.

In short, you’ll probably be better off with a gas engine if you’re breaking ground over a large area or need the power of a rear-tine model. These tillers will get the job done faster, produce more uniform results and put less stress on your body. 

Pros of Electric Motors

  • Typically the least expensive option. 
  • Run much quieter during operation. 
  • No worries about running out of gas in the middle of a job. 
  • Lightweight and easy to use.
  • Eco-friendly, with no toxic fumes.
  • Start with the push of a button. 
  • No gas or oil to deal with. 
  • Great for small spaces. 

Cons of Electric Motors

  • Requires the additional purchase of a long extension cord in an appropriate gauge.
  • Need to use care to keep the cord out of your tilling path.
  • Limited in distance from a power outlet. 
  • Smaller models tend to bounce along the soil surface; requires more effort to till deeply. 

To sum it up: If you’re working with a small plot of new ground or you live in an urban setting, an electric motor should serve you just fine in most cases. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a rototiller cut through grass?

Most tillers should be able to handle short grass and the associated root systems with no problems at all.

But long grasses, like the photo shows, can quickly become a tangled mess in your tiller tines, causing delays and aggravation.

Tall green grass against a background of trees

Use a string trimmer to cut down overgrown vegetation, and use your lawnmower on the lowest setting to shave the grass close to the soil surface.  

Is rototilling good for soil?

There are differing opinions on this issue, with adamant supporters and opponents on both sides.

Some benefits of tilling:

  • Tilled soil is easier to work with
  • Reduces weed population
  • Disrupts the lifecycle of harmful garden insects

A few drawbacks of tilling:

  • Destroys earthworm tunnel networks and may decrease populations of friendly insects
  • Increased risk for wind and water soil erosion
  • Long-term soil compaction and loss of topsoil

When you’re at the ground-breaking stage of a new garden, tilling is often a necessary step to transform the undeveloped plot into workable soil. 

As much as possible though, limit your tilling plans to once a season at most. As this article from Iowa State University shows, the worst problems usually surface from frequent tilling over long periods of time. 

Also, be sure to till in some organic matter, like compost or well-rotted manure, to help keep your soil structure as healthy as possible. 

RELATED: Stop by our Compost Mulch post to learn more about using compost to build thriving soil!

Can you plant immediately after tilling?

Allow your freshly tilled soil to rest for at least 2 to 3 weeks before planting your crops. If you can wait longer, all the better!

When should you use a tiller?

The best time to start preparing your ground for a new garden is several months before your first planting. Since most people plant their garden in the spring and summer, tilling in the fall or early winter is ideal. 

If you must till in the spring, wait until all frost has melted away and the soil has dried out somewhat. Tilling saturated soil could lead to long-term soil compaction problems and clog up your tiller, potentially harming the engine/motor. So it’s worth it to wait!

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the best tiller for breaking new ground will be the one that best fits your unique needs:

  • The size of your garden plot
  • The type of soil you have to work with
  • Your environment (urban vs rural)
  • Your budget

There are a lot of great options out there, so take some time to think about your situation and then make your purchase with confidence. 

Now go out and make your dream of that new garden a reality! 

We want to hear from you! What are you most excited or concerned about with your new garden plot? Do you have any other questions or suggestions to share? 

Let us know in the comments!

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Erinn sitting in front of garden.

About Erinn Witz

Hi! I’m Erinn, a Midwestern gal who’s just as interested in honing my gardening skills as you are. I’m here to show you that if I can do this growing thing, seriously, YOU can too! 

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