Tiller vs. Aerator – Choosing the Right Equipment for Your Needs

Having a beautiful lawn requires a lot of work. Getting the right tools is just a part of the maintenance process.

Tillers and aerators are a common sight in garden sheds, and these machines can help you prepare the soil for planting.

However, there are a couple of differences between them. If you want to learn more, we have compared tiller vs. aerator in this article so you could select the right piece of equipment for your garden.

Close up of tiller


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What is a Tiller?

A tiller is a powerful machine that turns over compact soil, making it ready for planting. It has large tines that easily break new ground. Tilling delivers nutrients to the ground, prepares it for new seeds, and helps the grass (as well as other plants) grow faster. This tool is commonly used for gardening, regardless of the size of the yard.

We can divide tillers into two types – front-tine and rear-tine tillers. Just like the name suggests, a front-tine tiller has blades in front of the wheels. All you need to do is to push down, lifting the tines a little bit, and you will have complete control over the process.

A rear-tine tiller has blades behind the wheels, allowing the user to press on the tines. It is the best way to dig deeper holes. Rear-tine tillers require more strength, so they are challenging to use.

Choosing the perfect tiller for your garden could seem complicated, but it truly isn’t.

Front-tine tillers are easy to use and suitable for yards that are on the smaller side. They could be seen as a versatile maintenance tool. Tillers can remove weeds and mix fertilizer into the soil.

Not to forget that you’ll have an easier time using a front-tine tiller around flowerbeds and vegetable patches. Rear-tine tillers are ideal for larger yards that have compact soil you want to prepare for seeding.

When to Use a Tiller?

If you are not sure when to use a tiller, spring or fall is the best time for it. However, make sure that the ground is not wet because you could end up with piles of clumped soil in your yard.

Check the moisture in the ground by taking a handful of it and squeezing tightly. If it crumbles, you can get your tiller out of the shed and start working on the garden.

Perhaps your lawn doesn’t look too good these days due to heavy foot traffic, harsh winters, or fungus. You could use a tiller to help you restart your lawn.

Make sure you use a tiller and not an aerator before seeding new grass. Overseeding is also highly recommended after tilling. Once the grass starts to grow, you are free to aerate the lawn on your own schedule.

What is an Aerator?

Now you are probably wondering what is the difference between aerating and tilling. An aerator is a garden tool that creates small holes in the ground. It is the best way to deliver extra oxygen to the grass and other plants in your garden. Using an aerator on grass can make it lusher as well as greener because air and water will encourage roots to grow deeper.

It could help your garden to be healthier and resistant to outside factors.

There are two types of lawn aerators – spike and plug aerators. A spike aerator creates holes in the soil by using tines. A plug aerator features hollow spikes that remove a small portion of the soil, leaving a deeper hole.

Keep in mind that plug aerators are more suitable for smaller gardens since they don’t require a lot of work. When looking for the best lawn aerator out there, choose the one that will fit the size of your yard.

If you have a mid-sized garden, you could get a manual aerator. It is more budget-friendly and super useful, especially after the planting season. Be mindful that manual aeration is a bit hard and could take a lot of your time. Luckily, you don’t have to do it so often, especially if your lawn is healthy.

Aerators that are powered by gas or electricity are more expensive and recommended for large lawns and gardens.

When to Aerate Your Lawn?

Aerating is quite similar to tilling. But there are a couple of differences. You should aerate your lawn once the seeds start to grow. The process itself includes delivering air into the soil, which can make your lawn healthier and greener.

It is best to choose the time of the year when the ground can recover. Experts often say that spring and fall are ideal for aerating the lawn.

Of course, you don’t have to aerate your lawn every single year. Take a closer look at your garden and determine if it needs aeration. If the grass is green, lush, and healthy, you can leave your aerator in the shed for now. The same goes for the type of soil.

Sandy lawns don’t need aeration every single year, but clay soil could benefit a lot from it. Finally, the climate you live in can have an impact on your lawn. Long and cold winters could damage the soil. In that case, aerate the soil at least once a year.

For more on this, read our article discussing the topic of how often you should aerate your lawn.

Tiller vs. Aerator: Which One is Better for You

When we compare aerator vs. tiller, it is hard to choose only one. Both of these machines deliver nutrients and water into the soil, improving its overall quality.

However, they use entirely different methods.

A tiller can break compact ground and breathe a new life into your lawn. An aerator is smaller and doesn’t require too much physical strength.

Both of these tools should be used either in spring or fall. If you tend to be more in your garden when the weather is warm, tilling in fall is the way to go. That is because it takes a couple of months for you to see any benefits from introducing fertilizer into the ground.

Tilling is also a great way to remove weeds from your yard. It brings them closer to the surface, letting the elements do all the work for you.

If you are planning to reseed the grass in your yard, a tiller will be more useful to you. It turns and mixes the soil, improving the drainage along the way. You can aerate your lawn after seeding the grass, but not before.

While having both of these machines in your shed is terrific, keep in mind that you won’t use both of them often. Aeration should be done once a year (in case your lawn is not looking too great). Tilling is recommended before the planting season.


While you can own both an aerator and a tiller, remember that you will use the latter one more frequently, especially if you have a healthy lawn.

Aeration is an excellent and quick way to provide extra nutrients as well as oxygen to the plants. On the other hand, tilling does a stellar job when it comes to the general maintenance of the yard. Whichever machine you go for, it will do wonders for your garden.

Andy Gibson

My name's Gibson. Andy Gibson. I like to think of myself as the Bond of the backyard, that is if yard work ever became sexy. I write about everything about indoor and outdoor gardening and the dread-it-but-still-need-to-do-it chores around the yard, like cleaning out the gutter guards.

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