Finger-controlled throttle makes it simple to adjust the speed. Sure-Grip handles are comfortable to hold, and they fold down for easy portability. You'll dig through tough soil, remove weeds, cut roots, mix soil amendments, and aerate the earth easily with the ultra-tough tines and strong engine power. Compact 9-inch tilling width means you can easily work near a wall or fence, or slip in between plants or rows. Digs holes to 10 inches deep. Lightweight: 24 pounds.
Pull-cord start. Tilling width is not adjustable. You pay more for a 4-cycle engine.
Ergonomically designed Sure-Grip handles are easy on your hands and wrists. Powerful 2-cycle commercial engine and strong tines chew through sod, soil, and roots with ease, and the 9-inch tilling width is perfect for smaller gardens or use near walls or trees. Flip the tines for precision weeding between rows or plants. Dig holes up to 10 inches deep. The handles fold for easy transport, so you can bring the Mantis to your community garden plot.
Pull-cord start, not electric push button, but most owners felt it was easy to start.
The standout feature of this tiller is the variable tilling width – 11”, 16”, or 21” – and a maximum depth of 11”. That combination covers just about every weeding or digging task you can think of. It has easy pull starting. It’s surprisingly maneuverable for a tiller of this size and switches quickly from transport mode to tilling.
No throttle control, so it’s a bit of a wrestle when digging deep. Assembly instructions are muddled.
Adjustable tilling width for 12, 24, or 26 inches. Drag bar helps control the depth of tilling, and counterweight means you won't struggle to control the tiller while in use. Throttle and gas controls are conveniently placed for easy use, and the handle bars adjust to your height. Full gas engine, no need to mix gas and oil as in 2-cycle machines.
At 100 pounds, this is a heavy tiller, and it's a somewhat expensive purchase. Pull-cord start.
The MC25 has a "parking stance" for easy storage, and it's lightweight (27 pounds) and highly maneuverable, making it a delight in the garden. Overhead handlebars reduce bounce and stress to your hands while making it easy to see where you're tilling. Adjustable tilling width from 6 to 10 inches, with a maximum 8-inch digging depth.
None to speak of, as long as you remember this tiller is for fairly light work, not heavy digging or cultivating. Pull-cord start.
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A quality gas tiller is a versatile tool that can turn a tired lawn into a productive vegetable plot, aerate your soil, make short work of weed growth, and quickly incorporate compost and fertilizer. They save hours of your valuable time and are way easier on your back than trying to dig over your ground by hand.
Two-cycle models are lightweight and deliver excellent performance from relatively modest capacities. Large four-cycle motors drive heavy-duty machines capable of tilling the biggest plots with minimal effort. No electric motor currently available comes close.
Far from being the difficult beasts of yesteryear, a raft of user-friendly features has made them infinitely more manageable and easier to live with. And while there's always an argument against the environmental impact of a gas motor, modern versions are more efficient than ever and many comply with stringent emissions standards.
To learn more, keep reading our guide. If you’re ready to buy, take a look at our recommendations, which cover a wide range of prices and performance options.
When you need consistent, reliable power delivery — and the freedom to cover large areas — there's no substitute for a gas motor. Two-cycle (also called two-stroke) gas tillers offer an excellent power-to-weight ratio and are easy to manage. While these modest-capacity motors can certainly be capable of creating new beds and borders from unbroken ground, you also need to look at tilling width and depth to get an overall picture of suitability. If you have hundreds or thousands of square feet to work, a large-capacity four-cycle motor will deliver more power and so won’t overstrain the engine. [Looking for more help in the garden? Check out our recommendations for garden fertilizers, gloves, and kneeler benches.]
A greater tilling width means fewer passes over a given patch of ground — but it's nice to have adjustability so that you can narrow down the track for working in and around plants without disturbing them. Do you need this flexibility, or would you be better with a wide, fixed width that will help you turn over large plots faster?
A good tilling depth is useful for initial digging of new ground, but less important for maintenance tasks. It's usually set via a simple bar and cotter pin at the rear.
Front-tine machines have the tines mounted directly underneath the engine. The wheels (if fitted) are to the rear. These are usually smaller, lightweight machines, and most have variable width, making them easy to maneuver in tight spaces. Rear-tine machines have wheels at the front and large-diameter tines at the rear. These provide a track of as much as 26 inches wide for digging over large plots. However, many are not adjustable.
It’s the rotation of the tines that pulls the machine forward. Added versatility comes from dual rotating tines — so the machine can dig backward as well as forward. This is a feature only found on rear-tine tillers and is particularly good for breaking up heavily compacted or clay soils. Some large tillers provide a reverse gear that allows you to back up without actually digging. A few high-end tillers have multiple forward speeds, so you can run slowly when working new areas and speed up for turning existing plots.
Some lightweight gas tillers have no wheels. It's important not to run these across hard surfaces like tarmac, because you'll bend the tines. Mid-range models have wheels with solid tires. The largest have pneumatic tires, which make them easier to steer over uneven terrain. Some rear-tine models also have counterweights on the front to improve overall balance and make a big machine easier to handle.
We came across a couple of four-cycle models that have a low–oil pressure shut-off, a valuable safety feature that stops the engine before lack of oil can do any damage.
Front-tine tillers often have fold-down handles so you need little space to store them. Unfortunately, rear-tine tillers are just big — but if you've got a yard large enough to warrant one, you've probably got a substantial shed or barn to keep it in.
Adjustable tilling width gives you the option of a wide machine for rapid working of unplanted areas or a narrow one when you need precision around vegetables, flowers, or shrubs.
It's sometimes difficult to judge the capabilities of machines with modest motors. If you have a lot of new ground to break, experts recommend buying the most powerful machine you can afford.
When mixing gas and 2-cycle oil, always use a measuring bottle or jug. If the ratio is too rich, your motor can be difficult to start and smoky. If it's too lean, it could overheat and seize up.
Inexpensive: Entry-level tiller/cultivators start at, or just below $200. You'll get 20 to 50cc two-cycle engines capable of handling aerating and weeding tasks but that don't have the outright power for a lot of ground breaking.
Mid-range: The medium-sized tillers that are the ideal all-round solution for most gardeners cost between $250 and $350. This will give you a choice of two- or four-cycle machines and cutting widths of around nine to 12 inches.
Expensive: Powerful four-cycle machines that can handle substantial plots cost $500 and up. You can pay $1,400 or more for electric start models and up to $2,500 for the largest models — but these are rated for yards of several thousand square feet.
The lightweight powerhouse
The two-cycle Mantis delivers tremendous performance, carving out a nine-inch width through tough, compacted soil and clay and working to a depth of up to 10 inches. It's all the more remarkable because the machine itself only weighs 20 pounds. Compact, tough, and with a five-year warranty, its excellent versatility can be further enhanced with a range of compatible attachments.
Tiller maintenance is not difficult, and a little care will extend the working life of your tool.
Don't put your tiller away dirty. Remove tangled weeds or roots and wash it down.
Check the tines. Although they don't need to be razor-sharp, if there's damage or they're worn, a quick rub over with a file can make a big difference to digging performance.
Engine maintenance will vary depending on whether it's a two-cycle or four-cycle motor. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for recommended air, fuel, or oil and oil filter changes.
If starting is difficult, check the spark plug. If it's dirty, give it a quick scrub with a wire brush. If it's cracked, chipped, or burned, it will need replacing.
Check drive belts for wear and replace if necessary.
If you've got pneumatic tires, check air pressures.
Check nuts, bolts, and other fasteners are done up tight. These machines do vibrate a bit, and they can work loose.
With its class-leading 33cc engine, six- to 10-inch cutting width, and maximum eight-inch depth, the Earthquake is a reliable and durable machine at a very competitive price. It's not the lightest of small tillers, but it will tackle all those important bed and border maintenance tasks with ease. Some owners did report starting problems, underlining how important it is to follow the manufacturer’s suggestions.
Most of our recommendations focus on tillers for small to medium-sized gardens, but we also looked at a few high-power models for larger yards.
Many tillers with large four-cycle engines are rear-tine models, but the 212cc Champion 22-Inch Tiller is a front-tine model that combines 16- to 22-inch tilling width with dual rotation to make it easier to break up tough ground.
The Yardmax YT4565 is another dual rotating model, this time rear-tined. It sports the popular and reliable 208cc Briggs & Stratton motor. Tilling width is 18 inches, though it's not adjustable.
The Troy-Bilt Pony ES has a 250cc Briggs & Stratton engine. This machine with a 16-inch tilling width is one of a few that offers an electric start.
Q. Are two-cycle (two-stroke) motors legal in California?
A. Two-cycle motors tend to have higher emissions than four-cycle models, but as far as we know, there's no particular ban on gas-powered garden tools. If you're concerned, check that the motor is CARB (California Air Resources Board) compliant. Fifteen states have now adopted this standard.
Q. Is a front-tine tiller better than a rear-tine version?
A. It's really a question of the type of work you'll be doing most of the time. Rear-tine tillers are usually big, powerful (and relatively expensive) machines designed for initial creation of a plot or the annual cultivation of large, unplanted areas. They aren't so good at maintenance work in and around existing planting. In those situations, a front-tine tiller provides the greater maneuverability you need.
Q. What's the difference between a tiller and a cultivator?
A. Landscape professionals look at a tiller as a machine capable of digging through clay or stony or compacted soil in order to create new planting areas, whereas a cultivator is only used for reworking an existing bed. With consumer models, the difference has become blurred, and tiller/cultivators are dual-purpose machines capable of performing both tasks. However, if it's just called a cultivator, don't expect it to break new ground.
Pamper your green thumbs with this lightweight yet powerful tiller that maneuvers like a dream, and lets you leave the shovel in the garden shed. At a mere 20 pounds, this is probably the lightest gas tiller you'll find, yet it performs like a heavyweight when it comes to digging, weeding, and tilling the soil.
4-Cycle Front Tine Tiller
If you're serious about raising your own produce, and work a sizable garden, not just a small plot, this is the tiller for you. The powerful 208cc Briggs & Stratton engine and super-strong tines blaze through tough soil, roots, grass, and weeds with no problem.
2-Cycle Mini Cultivator
If you are looking to save a few dollars, and you only need a tiller to mix amendments into the soil, do light weeding, and aerate your planting beds, the MC25 is a solid buy. It's not for heavy yardwork, such as breaking up hard ground or cutting through roots, but it's a lot easier than swinging a shovel when it's time to plant your garden.
An all-around excellent tiller for the gardener who believes time spent in the garden should be enjoyable, not back-breaking. The powerful Honda 4-cycle 25cc gas engine has plenty of horsepower to get your tough cultivating jobs done without turning you into a plow horse, and there's no need to mix gas and oil as in 2-cycle engines. Our Best of the Best for its ease of use and outstanding performance.
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