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The Difference Between a Tiller and a Cultivator

Breaking Soil vs Stirring Soil

By  | Tiller Product Expert

People often use the terms tiller and cultivator interchangeably, but these words actually refer to two different tools with two distinct purposes.

Using a tiller when it would be better to use a cultivator, or vice versa, would be like using a power mixer to toss salad, or a fork to stir cake mix.

Instead, choose the right tool for the job, and you'll be much more efficient.

Garden Tillers

Garden tillers are the creators. They're strong machines designed for digging and mixing hard soil into a loose garden bed.

Garden tillers are widely available in two styles:

  • Front-tine tillers
  • Rear-tine tillers

A third style, the mid-tine tiller, is available but less common among consumers.

The type of tiller you choose will depend on the kinds of projects you hope to accomplish with it.

Front-Tine TillerFront-Tine Tillers

Front tine tillers are ideal for many of that tasks that gardeners take on every year:

  • Breaking moderately hard ground
  • Loosening firm soil
  • Digging small to medium garden

They're easier to maneuver than their rear-tine counterpart because their wheels are in the back, which makes turning and reversing your tiller far simpler.

LEARN MORE: How to Pick the Perfect Front-Tine Tiller

Rear-Tine TillerRear-Tine Tillers

Rear-tine tillers are excellent machines for the kind of work that needs to be done when starting a large new garden plot:

  • Breaking hard ground
  • Loosening hard or rocky soil
  • Digging large gardens or small farm plots

Rear-tine tillers tend to be large, which can make them more difficult to push and steer. However, a rear-tine tiller allows you to leverage the weight of the machine for more power.

LEARN MORE:How to Pick the Perfect Rear-Tine Tiller


Less powerful than gardentillers, cultivators aren't designed for breaking ground or loosening hard soil. Instead, they're ideal for the tasks that keep your garden healthy and thriving throughout the growing season:

  • Blending and aerating soilprior to planting
  • Stirring in compost and fertilizer
  • Controlling weed growth

Cultivators churn soil into a much finer mixture than tillers, making them great for putting final touches on your garden plot just before you sow your seeds.

Unlike garden tillers, which are available only with gas engines, cultivators come in gas-powered, corded electric, and cordless models. When people use the term "electric tiller," they're actually referring to an electric cultivator.

LEARN MORE: How to Pick the Perfect Cultivator


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