Cultivator vs. Tiller: Pros/Cons
A cultivator and a tiller are two different machines, which both use metal blades to dig into the soil to loosen it. But while they seem to do the same job, they are not the same.
A cultivator is different from a tiller. A cultivator has the basic job of mixing the soil, while the tiller is designed to break up the soil in the first place.
Both machines look roughly alike but cultivators are smaller than tillers. Cultivators also have smaller engines and often feature electric-driven models.
Given their size and power differences, both machines have evolved to specialize in specific garden jobs. The following side by side review looks at their similarities and clears the question about which one to buy.
A cultivator is designed for mixing soil which has already been broken up by a tiller. Cultivators are not ideal for breaking up soil, except in situations where the garden soil is very soft.
They are also not ideal for working in a large area because they average a maximum tine width of about 12 inches. On the other hand, they work well on raised beds and are great for weeding.
The major uses of a cultivator include finely blending the soil before planting a crop, mixing compost or fertilizer into the soil, and keeping weeds away.
Cultivators are either gas or electric-powered. The gas-powered variety usually runs on 2-stroke engines. These are the smallest and simplest types of gas-powered engines, but they cause environmental pollution more than 4-stroke engines.
Electric cultivators are available in corded and cordless models. They are often clean and produce zero emissions, but they usually deliver less power than gas-powered models.
Lots of people confuse electric cultivators for electric tillers. You should note that tillers hardly come in electric models because of their huge power requirements. Only cultivators come in electric models because they need less power than tillers.
- Ideal for mixing soil. One big advantage of cultivators over tillers is the smaller size of their blades, which make them ideal for mixing soil into the fine blend that seedlings need for their roots. Tillers might break up hard soil, but you need a cultivator to turn that soil into a good garden bed.
- Great for weeding. Another advantage of a cultivator's smaller-sized blades is that you can use it for weeding between beds. Smaller-sized tillers can also be used for weeding, but the bigger, rear-tined ones are definitely not good for weeding.
- Ideal for adding compost. A cultivator is a perfect tool for adding compost to your garden beds. It's fine and small blades help to mix compost more evenly into the soil, much more than could be possible with a tiller. A finely mixed-in compost gives you faster and better results than otherwise.
- Easier to use. Cultivators are smaller and more lightweight than tillers. This makes it easier to push or turn them around, and to do other things with them in general.
- Less power than a tiller. A cultivator usually has a smaller engine than a tiller and this makes it deliver less power too. By delivering less power, a cultivator can't possibly handle the types of tough soils that a tiller can handle with ease. It can't also reach as deep into the ground as a tiller.
- Push behind. Most cultivators get pushed from behind. This manual pushing is necessary because of the cultivator's small engine and because of its simple design, which means that it can't propel itself. Although the cultivator is relatively lighter, having to push it around is still physically demanding.
- Not ideal for large gardens. Cultivators are not ideal for large gardens. You can use them in smaller areas up to 1,500 sq. ft. in size, but larger than that is overkill.
A tiller or rototiller is an agricultural machine designed specifically for tilling the ground. It works on both soft and harder soils and is usually larger than a cultivator.
It also has a larger engine than a cultivator and will cover more space in less time than a cultivator. Due to their high power needs, most tillers are gas-powered and most of the so-called electric tillers in the market are actually cultivators.
There are 3 types of tillers: front tine, rear-tine, and vertical-tine tillers. As their names suggest, front-tine tillers have their tines in front and are the lighter weight version of the three. They are ideal for gardens up to 5,000 sq. ft. in size.
Rear-tine tillers are the heavy-weights. They pack more power and are ideal for areas larger than 5,000 sq. ft. While front-tine tillers are costlier than cultivators, rear-tine tillers are costlier than front-tine tillers. Vertical-tine tillers are not in common use.
Tillers also feature much more technology than simple cultivators. The wheels are often engine-propelled, the engines can include an electric starter, plus tiller engines are almost always 4-cycle engines.
Another important tiller technology is the tine-rotation direction. With many rear-tine tillers, you can switch the tines in the same direction with the tiller's wheels, or in the opposite direction for more power. Some models even offer more options.
Read More: 7 Best Mini Tillers
- Easily breaks hard ground. Tillers have the job to only break ground and they do it well. A cultivator will never break new ground as good as a tiller. Tillers work well in humus, loam, clay, and even rocky soils. Also, depending on how large your garden is and the type of soil it has, you can either get yourself the standard front-tine tiller or the more powerful rear-tine tillers.
- Ideal for digging large gardens. A tiller comes with a larger engine and wider tines. Although the exact width of the tines and their power will depend on each particular brand, any tiller will on average cover more space in less time, than a cultivator. For larger projects, tillers are also available as tractor trailers.
- Cleaner engines, With their 4-stroke engines, tillers are definitely more environmentally friendly than cultivators. The 4-stroke engines are also easier to keep up and do not come with the hassle of mixing oil and gas in the right ratios, as is usually the case with 2-stroke engines.
- Longer tines. Not only are tiller tines wider and stronger than cultivator tines, they are also longer. Being longer enables tillers to reach deeper into the soil for a more thorough operation.
- Heavier than cultivators. Tillers are generally larger and heavier than cultivators. This makes it more difficult to transport, store, and maintain them.
- More difficult to control. Most tillers come with extra features which add to their complexity. This combines with their larger size and weight to make them more difficult to control than a cultivator. Tiller use requires a higher learning curve than cultivators, but it also results in better working efficiencies.
- More expensive. Tillers are costlier than cultivators and the more features the tiller comes with, the higher its price. Some tillers cost over 10 times the price of a cultivator, but they are often worth it.
Making the Right Choice
In order to make the right choice between a cultivator and a tiller, you should consider how big or small your garden is, how much money you have available, and what exactly you need the machine for. The major features of both machines are below for your reference.
Up to 1,500 sq. ft.
Above 1,500 sq. ft.
Manual pushed / engine drive
Choosing the right machine can save you lots of hours and energy but it's your specific requirements that will help you decide whether a cultivator or a tiller is right for you.
Both machines have their strong and their weak points, and you are free to choose just one to fulfill your needs.
Remember though, that they complement each other, so nothing stops you from getting both and working with maximum efficiency.
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