9 Best Tillers for Breaking New Ground in 2020 + Buyer’s Guide

Did you know that victory gardens are making a big comeback?

In several countries during the world wars – including the US and Canada – residents were encouraged to grow their own vegetables to supplement their rations and boost morale.

They were known as victory gardens – or war gardens – and they played a part in helping reduce the pressure of public food supply.

Well, there’s been no better opportunity to start your own version!

Creating a new garden – vegetable or otherwise – can be a labor of love – and there’s certainly a lot of labor when it comes to tilling the soil for the first time.

But with the right tools, you’ll have it ready for seeding before you know it, and that’s why I’ve put together this review to find the best tiller for breaking new ground.

A buyer’s guide and FAQ section will follow.

Let’s dig for victory!

9 Best Tillers for Breaking New Ground in 2020

Yard Butler Twist Tiller

Before we get into the heavy-duty and wildly expensive earth moving equipment, I thought I’d include something for those who are seriously on a budget.

Probably the best manual tiller out there, this device from Yard Butler is 38 inches tall with an ergonomic design and step plate that is centered over the tool for maximum efficiency. The generous T-handle greatly reduces the twisting effort, as the sharp tines claw into the soil, breaking up even densest and most compact earth.

With a durable steel construction that is powder-coated for longevity and anti-rust, the six unbreakable tines will seriously get the job done at the business end of the tool.

Pros

  • Premium quality construction.
  • Cushioned hand grips.
  • Excellent price.
  • Highly rated.
  • Versatile.

Cons

  • Not as powerful as a machine.
  • Can be very hard work.

Conclusion

Perfect for smaller gardens, weeding, aerating your soil – or just those hard to reach areas in your yard, this is also the best tiller for raised beds where you can’t use a bulldozing gas-powered behemoth. Every garden needs one of these.

Earthwise TC70016 Corded Electric Tiller/Cultivator

While the best tillers for hard soil and breaking new ground are usually gas-powered, rear tine machines, not everyone can afford such a unit. With that in mind, I’ve included a couple of cheaper options that should still be able to do the job.

This is a popular Earthwise offering that is very highly rated, with a powerful 13.5 Amp motor and eight-inch working depth. The six sharp tines are fully adjustable and provide a tilling width of 11-16-inches.

Featuring a push-button start and ergonomic grip handle, this is a perfect garden tiller for anyone just starting out and looking for something less intimidating than a gas motor.

Pros

  • Cord retention hook.
  • Foldable handles.
  • Super lightweight.
  • Flip-down wheels.

Cons

  • Too light for some jobs.
  • Heavy packed soil might need to be loosened up first.

Conclusion

It might not come close to the power of the latter machines in this review, but it’s a fraction of the cost and still receives excellent feedback for being able to break up new ground. If you’re on a budget, or just looking for a decent little tiller – this is a great choice.

Sun Joe TJ603E Electric Tiller and Cultivator

Sun Joe/Snow Joe manufactures some top-drawer garden machines for all seasons, like battery-powered lawnmowers for the summer or snow blowers for the winter. This is their take on an electric tiller, with a 12 Amp motor powering to an excellent 340 RPM across a 16-inch working width.

There are six, steel-angled tines for maximum durability and performance, and a three-position wheel adjustment with the ability to dig to a depth of eight inches.

Featuring an instant start and safety switch, this tidy unit needs no oil, gas, or regular maintenance and is probably the best electric tiller for breaking new ground.

Pros

  • Folding handles.
  • Great price.
  • Name to trust.
  • Lightweight and compact.

Cons

  • Not as heavy-duty as gas.

Conclusion

A highly-rated electric tiller that will still be able to break up new ground. Top tip – with this and the previous entry above – if you have very packed soil, consider adding a bit of extra weight to the machines to help the process along.

CRAFTSMAN C210 Gas Powered Cultivator/Tiller

This two-cycle tiller and cultivator from Craftsman is the first of our gas-powered machines, so naturally, we’re going to see some heavier-duty tools from here on – with price tags to match.

A solid unit that is still relatively lightweight and compact, this is an ideal step up from electric options without the need to go all in. The four patented steel tines can take on the tough tasks to break ground, cut roots, and help get nutrients back into the soil.

Backed by a 22cc engine, the variable speed throttle will tackle a variety of ground conditions, with an adjustable width and working depth up to five inches. Highly maneuverable, this is a great entry-level gas-powered tiller that’s well worth your consideration.

Pros

  • Name to trust.
  • Comfortable, V-grip handle.
  • Removable transport wheels.
  • Two-stroke oil included.

Cons

  • Not as powerful as four-stroke models.
  • Take care on very packed surfaces.

Conclusion

It’s not the best walk behind tiller for new ground, but it’s still a great little machine for multiple uses around your yard or garden. Again, try adding a bit of extra weight to improve your chances of success.

Schiller Grounds Care Mantis 7940 Tiller/Cultivator

Now we start to up the ante when it comes to power – which is what you really need if you’re serious about breaking new ground with a tiller. This is a four-stroke, gas-powered machine from Mantis, with a 25cc engine that weighs a relatively lightweight 24 lbs.

Featuring a finger controlled throttle for variable speed, a compact nine-inch tilling width, and unique curved tines for tilling up to 10-inches deep, there’s a lot going for this portable unit.

One of its biggest advantages, however, is the fact that several additional attachments are available, so you can turn it into an aerator, plow, dethatcher, or an edger with the right gear.

Pros

  • Highly maneuverable.
  • Built-in kickstand.
  • Versatile.
  • Folding handles.
  • Excellent ratings across the board.

Cons

  • Reports of it being a little difficult to start.

Conclusion

A multi-function tool with the right attachments, this will be a useful addition to your collection, as well as doing the tilling job with aplomb. Check out our article on the best lawn aerators if that’s what you’re specifically looking for, or this article if you’re in the market for a trimmer or edger.

Troy-Bilt Colt 208cc Forward Rotating Front Tine Tiller

This front-tine tiller is powered by a 208cc four-stroke engine with a recoil start. Equipped with forward rotating Bolo tines that pull the machine along, it has a chain transmission drive with one speed and can be set a maximum working depth of seven inches.

With three adjustable tilling widths at 13, 22, and 24-inches, you can customize your tiller to suit the area you’re covering. This heavy-duty unit will cut through the soil with ease to ensure you get the results you’re looking for in your garden.

However, stay tuned if you prefer the rear-tine machines – which is going to be much better at churning through hard-packed soil and clay.

Pros

  • Name to trust.
  • Folding handle for storage.
  • Comfort handgrips.
  • Easy start system.

Cons

  • The rear-tine version is arguably better.

Conclusion

For the price, this is probably one of the best front-tine tillers out there, because it’s about to become a very expensive hobby.

Earthquake 31043 Badger Front Tine Tiller

Earthquake by name and earthquake by nature, this company has been producing some popular and successful soil moving equipment since the 1960s.

This is a powerful, front-tine tiller with a 149cc, four-cycle Kohler engine. Featuring gear-drive transmission, forged steel tines, and a cast iron tail mount, this is a seriously heavy-duty piece of kit that will tear up the earth in your backyard.

Extra-large wheels help negotiate tricky, uneven digs, making it easy to maneuver with a two-position tail system that makes turning a breeze. Cut in widths of 11, 16, and 21-inches with this rugged machine that offers high stability tilling all day long.

Pros

  • Durable steel chassis.
  • Folding wheels while operating.
  • Comfortable handling.
  • Name to trust.

Cons

  • None to think of, let me know if you have one!

Conclusion

If you’re looking for rear tine power at front tine affordability – then you’ve come to the right place. This is a beast of a machine for a fraction of the cost of rear tine versions, and I’d be very surprised if it didn’t do just as good a job.

YARDMAX YT4565 Dual Rotating Rear Tine Tiller

Powered by an ever-reliable Briggs and Stratton engine, this rear tine tiller is backed by a monster 208ccs of power, with this kind of quality it’s probably one of the cheapest models in its class on the market.

And it offers plenty of bang for your buck, too. With a large, 18-inch working width and seven depth adjustments up to 6.5-inches, you’ll have plenty of control to get the job done as quickly as possible. The 13-inch, self-propelling tines can break up any soil conditions, and the forward and counter-rotation options mean it’s ideal for cultivation as well as deep soil tilling and breaking new ground.

And with a gear that stops tine rotation, the Yardmax is super easy to transport where you need it.

Pros

  • Great price for what you get.
  • Solid build quality.
  • Self-sharpening tines.
  • Built-in counterweights.
  • Reliable engine.
  • Adjustable handle.

Cons

  • None to speak of – an outstanding tiller all round.

Conclusion

For what you get in this package from Yardmax this could be one of the best tillers on the market. A compact, reliable, and powerful machine, it doesn’t get much better than this without spending a small fortune.

Southland SRTT196E Rear Tine Tiller

The Southland rear tine tiller is a four-stroke machine with a 196cc engine that offers 9.6 foot pounds of torque. The durable steel tines are self-sharpening, and at 11-inches provide you with a generous 10-inches of tilling depth, so you can be sure to churn up even the toughest new ground.

Probably the best tiller for clay soil, this heavy-duty beast has three-inch pneumatic tires for easy maneuverability over rugged terrain, with forward and reverse options for maximum maneuverability and power when it comes to breaking the surface layer.

Pros

  • Tough and durable construction.
  • Easy recoil start.
  • Counter-rotating tines.
  • Depth regulator lever.

Cons

  • It’s not cheap.

Conclusion

Although it might set you back more than other options, this is a pro-choice tiller for anyone who is really serious about getting their garden in order. If you’ve got a big plot of land you want to convert into a sustainable vegetable patch to see you through the Apocalypse – you could do much worse than the Southland.

How to Choose the Best Tiller for Breaking New Ground

Person using tiller

Below you’ll find plenty of useful information to consider before you make a purchase of your new tiller. An FAQ section will follow just in case you missed something.

The Size of the Garden

Probably the most important consideration when it comes to choosing the right tiller is the size of your garden.

Or, the size of the plot of land you wish to cultivate.

Obviously, you’re not going to need a whopping beast of a machine if you’re just growing a modest patch of tomatoes.

In many cases, using a manual tiller is perfectly adequate for the job at hand.

But if you’re serious about your garden, you have a large yard, or you simply want to re-landscape your plot, then the more heavy-duty tools should be on your radar.

Take into consideration the width of the tiller’s cutting path and purchase accordingly. Remember that this can often be adjusted and might be anywhere from six inches wide to over 30-inches depending on the model.

Front or Rear Tines

If you take a look at the steel tines on a tiller, you’ll notice there are two, distinct types.

Front tine tillers have the tines at the front of the machine.

Rear tine tillers have the tines at the back of the machine.

Simple, right? But what’s the difference, and which version is better for you?

Front Tine Tillers

They are better for lighter cultivating work. They’re more maneuverable, allowing the operator to negotiate obstacles with ease, or turn on a dime.

While they will weigh much less than their rear counterparts, the engine or power source sits directly above the tines to still provide the weight they need to cut into the soil.

Front tine tillers require less maintenance and are nearly always much cheaper than a rear tine version. However, they don’t cut nearly as deep and can struggle with dense, compact soil.

Rear Tine Tillers

They are the heavyweights of the tilling world. As such, they’re designed for tougher jobs – which includes breaking new ground.

The tines are positioned behind the engine, in such a way that the machine has more weight to dig much deeper into the earth. You can really grind these beasts into the soil and tear it right up.

Tillers with rear tines are heavier and larger than front tine tillers – and you’ll pay considerably more for the privilege of using one. They need more maintenance and can be challenging to maneuver around your yard.

Having said that, you’ll be lucky to find a front tine tiller that can rotate in both directions – most rear tine tillers can do just that, which is a huge advantage.

Think of a front tine tiller as a single-stage snow blower, and a rear tine tiller as a two-stage snowblower. That analogy helps me, anyway – and it’s a great time to pick up a bargain ‘blower for the winter, too!

Power Source

Much like this selection of quality chainsaws, tillers can be powered via a number of sources, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.

Manual tillers are the most eco-friendly options. They’re also the cheapest, but their power source comes from you – so it could be backbreaking work if you have a lot of ground to cover.

Electric tillers can be corded or battery-powered – but cordless models tend not to have the power you really need for breaking new ground. Check this article for the best electric tillers if you’re looking for something a little lighter duty.

Gas-powered tillers offer the most power by far, but they have several downsides – including noise and emission pollution, regular maintenance and upkeep costs, and the fact that they are the most expensive.

I’ve offered the broadest selection I could find in this review, but if you’re genuinely looking to break new ground with a tiller (soil that’s never been touched before) then, unfortunately, gas-power is still streets ahead of the competition.

Other Features

Tillers might include other features to make tilling life that little bit easier.

In many models, the spacing of the tines can be adjusted so you can plow the earth to suit your own particular needs.

Depth can also be set to the level you prefer – so look out for products that offer that ability. You’ll find that most good tillers will do this as standard.

And don’t forget about the handle design – is it going to be comfortable to use? Can it be adjusted?

Many tillers also have folding handles for ease of storage and transportation – but such a convenience is usually reserved for the front tine variants, only.

Cost

You might notice in this series of tiller articles that between a manual, hand-operated tool and a high-end rear tine behemoth, the price range is extreme.

Unfortunately, if you’re looking for a proper groundbreaker, as well as the earth – you’re going to need to dig deep into your pockets. The most effective tools for this job don’t come cheap.

Always buy the best you can afford – and remember to suit the size of the job to the amount you’re willing to spend on it.

Final Top Tip

Remember that if you’re planning on breaking new ground with a tiller, it’s very important you check with local authorities to confirm there are no utility lines running under the surface of your proposed new garden.

We don’t want you to fall at the first hurdle by busting open a sewer pipe in under your lawn – although it might provide some quality manure…

FAQs

Tiller

What is a Tiller?

A tiller is a tool, machine, or another such device that is used to break up the ground in preparation for planting flowers, fruits, and/or vegetables.

It is not to be confused with a cultivator (although they often are) which is a more lightweight machine for turning already loosened soil, or mixing existing compost and fertilizer.

How much do tillers cost?

The price of tillers on the market today can vary wildly, depending on the type of machine you’re looking for. A manually-operated tool will set you back around $40, while for a high-end, gas-powered, rear-tine machine you might not get much change out of $1500.

You’ll find everything in between to suit all projects and budgets.

How do you use a tiller on hard ground?

Tilling hard ground for the first time can be a tough assignment, but there are a few steps you can take to make life easier for yourself.

First, never try to till the ground when it’s bone dry – you will seriously risk damaging the soil, the tiller, and possibly yourself.

Having said that, the soil should not be too wet, either. I like to use the analogy of a sponge that has been rung out.

It might be a good idea to give the ground a precursory going over with a pick or digging fork – just to get things loosened up.

Then, start your tiller off at the shallowest setting, and take it easy on the first pass. Going too hard too soon could result in a damaged machine or a botched job.

Repeat at different depths until the ground has been adequately tilled.

Do you push or pull a tiller?

Tillers with tines at the front are designed in such a way that the rear wheels are there only to guide the tiller and the actual forward movement is done by the tines digging into the surface for propulsion.

As such, you should really only be pushing a front tine tiller.

Some rear tine tillers, on the other hand, come with a reverse option – which means you can push or pull the machines depending on which technique is working for you.

Check out this easy-to-follow guide to using a tiller.

Can tillers cut through roots?

It depends on how deep the roots are, the root diameter, and the quality of the tiller and sharpness of its tines.

You must exercise caution here – as roots can pose a challenging hazard for any tilling operation, as they might cause the machine to kick or jump.

Should I water the ground before tilling?

As previously mentioned, you should never use a tiller on bone dry earth, so if it needs it, it’s highly recommended you water the ground before you get to work.

Don’t go overboard though – just enough to so the earth can be made into a semi-dry mud ball and not break apart or dust-up. The soil should be damp, but not wet and certainly not saturated.

Use one of these great expandable hoses and get the job done fast and in a tidy fashion.

And if you have a larger yard, perhaps a hose cart with wheels would be a big help in this situation.

How deep will a tiller dig?

It depends on the tiller – and the depth you wish to set it at.

Usually, a commercially available tiller’s maximum depth will be around 8-10 inches. Sometimes more, depending on the size and type of the machine.

That’s more than enough to start a new garden.

Should I sharpen the tiller’s tines?

Manufacturers recommend inspecting the tines for every 30 hours of operation. If they do need a touch-up, use a bastard file.

Alternatively, you could request a professional to do the job if you don’t feel comfortable, and some machines come with self-sharpening tines that will save you the trouble altogether.

Can you use a tiller to remove weeds?

A tiller is a great tool for weeding your garden – so long as you bear in mind you’ll be bringing up everything else with it.

It will likely slice up the roots of the weeds too, so you might need to go over the area again by hand to make sure nothing is left behind.

Remember you can always toss your weed or other organic waste materials in one of these cool garden compost bins.

And for particularly stubborn weeds, you might need to change tactics altogether. Check out this article on getting rid of nettles for some top tips and ideas.

Summary

Creating a new vegetable plot or flower bed in your garden is an exciting and rewarding project that the whole family can get involved in.

But to get started, you’ll need to source the best tiller for breaking new ground in order to make your horticultural dreams a reality.

As you’ll likely need something heavy-duty for first-time tilling, I would lean towards any of the rear tine machines, with the Yardmax looking like a great option without breaking the bank.

However, lighter models still might be suitable depending on the conditions in your yard.

Let me know which tool you would choose and why.

Best of luck, and happy tilling!