We purchase every product we review with our own funds—we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
If you've ever spent hours doing back-breaking sod-busting for a new vegetable or flower bed, you'll appreciate the benefits of an electric tiller. Good tillers are powerful, quiet, simple, and trouble-free — a gardener's delight, compared to turning tons of earth with a shovel.
Not surprisingly, there are plenty of electric tillers available. It's nice to have lots of choice, but it can be tough to decide which is best.
BestReviews was created to find answers to those kind of buying questions. We do the research that you can't. We test dozens of models — in the field, and in our own labs. We consult with landscape experts to make sure we didn't miss anything. We work our way through mountains of customer feedback.
If you're choosing an electric tiller because it's lighter than a gas model, you're usually right — but do check the weight. Some are heavier than you might think.
We're completely independent. We never accept manufacturer's samples, so there's no temptation to skew results. Equally important, because we buy the same tools you would, from the same places you would, you know you'll get the same performance.
The five electric garden tillers featured are those that win our approval. Each offers a solution that suits a particular need, and excels when compared to their nearest competitors.
For those who like more detail, we’ve compiled the following report.
As long as there have been gas and electric garden tools there have been arguments about which is best. It's been done to death, so we're not going to spend a lot of time on it here. Suffice to say:
If you need absolute power, and the ability to go anywhere, gas-powered equipment wins, hands down.
If you want convenience, quiet operation, ease-of-use, and low maintenance, go electric. No question.
The more important question here is whether electric tillers are up to the task.
There is no doubt they make light work of of re-working existing beds.
They're great for incorporating compost or other organic matter.
They make weed-clearance between rows a breeze.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Earthwise 11-Inch 8-1/2 Amp Electric
Whether the Earthwise is an adequate machine for your needs will depend on what you expect from it. If you want it to till hard-packed earth that's never been dug, you'll be disappointed. If you need a tool that will re-work existing beds and borders, quickly aerate the soil, prepare soil for planting, and occasionally tackle tougher jobs, the Earthwise could be your ideal solution. Most owners tell us that it's a great value. Most of all, they like the simplicity: just pull the lever and go, go, go!
But will they break new ground? Do they have the power to turn an unused area, or a patch of lawn, into a productive plot?
The answer depends on the type of electric tiller you buy, and the power it produces. It also depends on the size of garden or yard you have. We'll look at specific elements in a moment, but in general:
Low power, lightweight electric tillers are great for maintenance and can be a boon for those with reduced physical ability.
High-performance electric tillers compete head-on with gas-powered counterparts of a similar size. In small and medium-sized gardens, particularly in urban areas, they're the optimum choice.
It's not recommended to use extension cables beyond 100 feet. It's certainly not a good idea to daisy-chain them together. If you need to do that to till parts of your garden, you ought to be looking at a gas-powered tiller. They will cost you more, but they're bigger, more powerful, and better suited to large gardens.
If you use an extension cord, make sure it's of sufficient gauge. If it's too thin you lose power, and it's even possible that the cable could melt. If yours is getting hot, you need to upgrade it.
We've mentioned the restriction of an electrical cord, so what about cordless electric tillers? Batteries are getting more powerful, run times longer, and recharge times shorter. Are they a viable alternative?
Though cordless tools are making big inroads in many areas, at the time of writing there are very few cordless garden tillers on the market. They're comparable with mid-range corded models in terms of performance, though generally more expensive.
In exchange for the obvious freedom of not having a cord attached, you have to be prepared for just 45 minutes of run time, and a two to three hour wait for recharging. You could buy an additional battery, of course, but they aren't cheap.
It's a situation that's bound to change as battery technology improves, but the fact we were only able to feature one cordless model in our final selection reflects what's currently available.
Don't try to till wet ground. You'll over-strain the motor (and probably yourself), and you'll damage the soil structure.
Comparing power output for electric tillers can certainly be confusing.
Many manufacturers quote amps, but technically, that's not an informative number — amps measure electricity flow, rather than power.
Electric motor power is measured in watts, but few makers give a figure.
One or two use horsepower, which many people understand, yet it's not an accurate way to measure an electric motor either!
The circuit where you plug in your electric tiller should be fitted with an RCD (residual current device). This cuts the power in the event of cable damage, preventing you from a potentially lethal shock.
So how do you judge? We can give some approximate guidance.
Anything less than six amps is likely to only perform cultivating duties, not proper tilling.
Eight to ten amps covers the majority of electric tillers. More is better.
If only watts is quoted, look for 500 plus.
If only horsepower is quoted, look for ½ hp and higher.
Cordless tillers are a little different. Batteries are usually 36 or 40 volt, but equally as important is the amp hour (Ah) rating. This is an indication of how well the tiller maximizes the power available. 4 Ah is a good baseline.
Bear in mind this is just part of the equation. The following elements all form part of the package, and it's important to look at the machine as a whole.
Product in Depth
Effective tilling is a combination of:
Tine Shape: Some are a very basic L shape, other manufacturers have developed designs that break up the ground more efficiently.
Tine Layout: Four tines will till faster than two. We've seen six on some tillers, which is great, as long as you have a powerful motor to drive them properly.
Occasionally, tines can get tangled with vegetation. Turn off and unplug your tiller before clearing them.
The more width you have, the less times you have to run up and down a given patch of ground, so the less energy you have to expend. If you’ve got a large area to till, wider is most likely better.
Good cutting depth allows you to break up the soil properly. This allows for proper growth for your plants, and lets you incorporate organic matter right down where the roots will be.
Control over depth is often a matter of working your plot until you've gone as deep as you want. The ability to gauge or fix depth accurately is a benefit when you only want to till the surface.
When looking at tilling width and depth, you also need to take into account motor power. Something that digs very wide and deep can only do so properly if there's sufficient drive available. A six-tine tiller with a modest motor will be fine when cultivating, but might struggle to break new ground. A four-tine tiller with a powerful motor will churn away all day — and in the end will probably get the job done quicker.
If your tiller doesn't have wheels, don’t be tempted to “walk” it over concrete or paved areas with the motor running — you’ll damage the tines.
In general, electric garden tillers are lighter than their gas-powered counterparts, but weight still has a big impact if you have reduced strength, and need a machine suited to your abilities.
Small cultivators that look like weed wackers weigh around ten pounds, but are only useful for turning over small areas and maintenance between rows. Full-size electric garden tillers run from around 20 to 30 pounds.
Wheels help with maneuverability, though some very good machines don't have them. You also have to consider the tilling action itself. You'll often be working uneven ground, possibly at a depth of six inches or more. You need enough strength to wrestle the tool back into line if it starts to wander, or hits a rock.
If you have a reasonable level of fitness an electric tiller is a very manageable tool. Sometimes, however, it's worth getting a contractor in just to do that first dig.
Long grass can quickly tangle a tiller. If you're making a new bed in a lawned area, cut the grass nice and short first.
Many electrical devices are only covered by a 12 month warranty, but it's nice to see that several manufacturers of electric tillers have more confidence than that in the durability of their products.
Indeed, most well-known brands offer two years. Some go as far as five. One maker is so confident you can't break the tines on their machine, they’re guaranteed for life.
Light-weight doesn't necessarily mean it's not tough. If you're concerned about durability, the warranty period gives a good indication of the maker's confidence. Also look at customer feedback.
The main problem with cheap electric tillers is that they don't have the guts to do hard work. Plastic components are often fragile, too. If you've only got occasional cultivating tasks, they can be okay, but it's not the tool for a keen gardener.
Electric tillers from reputable brands start at a little over $100. Some models are perhaps more cultivator than tiller in this price bracket — in that they're more suited to working existing areas than breaking new ground — but there are plenty to choose from. Between $100 and $200 you'll get a versatile tool without breaking the bank.
If you want one of the few high-quality cordless tillers, you'll pay around $250. Freedom from cable does come at a premium.
There's another notable step in price when you get to the very best electric garden tillers. At around $350 they're as much as some gas-powered models. They're also just as powerful, quieter, and easier to use, making them a favorite of many gardeners.
If you get bogged down, stop the motor as soon as possible to save over-straining it.
It's important to consider all the elements, not just outright power, or widest cut:
If you're working existing plots or beds, light-weight and modest power come at lower cost.
If you're breaking a lot of new ground, you need maximum power and the ability to go deep. Being able to cut a wide tract is nice, but not at the expense of outright digging ability.
Multiple speed are a definite bonus, but require a bigger investment.
Bottom line? These machines are expected to work hard, so you don't have to. Resist the temptation to buy a cheap model that you think might be okay; you'll probably end up disappointed. Buy the best electric garden tiller you can afford, and you'll get years of good service from it. In this marketplace you invariably get what you pay for.
A damaged extension cable is dangerous and should be thrown away. Never attempt to repair it.
Roots of some plants can be quite shallow. They can also be close to the surface if you've had a dry spell. If you're tilling between rows to keep weeds down, be careful you don't go too deep and damage your crop.
Don't skimp on cleaning and maintenance. Spend a few extra minutes, and follow the manufacturer's instructions. You’ll prevent accidents, and dramatically extend the life of your tiller.
To get the best digging performance from your electric tiller, vary the motion. Rocking it gently from side to side, or holding it back occasionally, helps the tines claw into the dirt more effectively, and breaks up the ground more quickly.
Always wear gloves and sturdy work boots. Although shields are fitted to prevent tillers throwing up stones, if you have very dry ground you may want to wear a mask.
Q. What's the difference between a cultivator and a tiller?
A. A cultivator is used for maintaining ground that has already been worked. A tiller is more powerful. It will do the things a cultivator can, but should also be capable of breaking new ground.
Recently, descriptions have gotten confused with the introduction of lightweight, cordless electric tillers. They look a lot like a weed wacker, but with vertical tines on the business end. Manufacturers call them “tillers,” but to us they're only cultivators. No way will they break new ground.
Q. I have very hard sod. Is an electric tiller really powerful enough to create new beds?
A. The best electric tillers have design features that allow them to compete head-on with gas models. Will they do the job? Almost certainly. Will a large, heavy, gas-powered tiller do the job more quickly? You bet.
It's more a question of what you need to do most frequently. If you've got a small to medium garden, want to create a few new beds, but mostly you'll be re-tilling, an electric tiller will do the job. If you have several acres of ground to break, and the area has never been dug before, a gas tiller is the better choice.
Q. What are front-tine tillers and rear-tine tillers?
A. Front-tine tillers have the digging parts — tines — in front of the wheels (or may not have wheels at all). All electric tillers and some gas models follow this format. The drive is to the tines, and their rotation drags the tiller forward. On rear-tine tillers, the motor is in front and drives the wheels and tines. It's a powerful combination, only seen on gas models.
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At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.