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Cultivator vs. Tiller: Which One is Better for You?

Cultivator vs. Tiller

Quite often, the terms cultivator and tiller will be used interchangeably as they are usually thought to refer to the same gardening equipment.

But while they will be quite similar in both design and concept, it is important to understand that these are two different farm implements used for different applications.

Also, they will differ significantly in other factors such as the tilling depth that you get with each and will also come at different price ranges.

Whether you are planning to start a new garden or are looking for farming equipment that will help make your job easy, here we help make the differences between the cultivator and tiller clear to ensure you know what you need.

Cultivator Overview

Cultivator

Cultivators, just as their name suggests, are designed for cultivating an existing planting area. And given that the job is much simpler since the soil is not very hard, it will often be smaller and less powerful than the tiller.

These smaller machines are more ideal for handling individual gardens and smaller plot sizes and apart from breaking up hard, compacted soil, they can do most of the things a tiller does.

But their small size also means they will not dig as wide or as deep as the tiller which for many of their intended applications might not matter a lot.

However, this more compact size can also come in handy when working on smaller and tighter areas where the lager tiller would not fit. Storing and transporting the cultivators is also much easier given their compact size.

With one around, you will also not need to worry about weeds as they do a great job when weeding. And whether you are an experienced gardener or not, cultivators will give you an easier time as they are easy to operate and maintain.

Cultivators will also offer more power source options. Despite the 2-cycle gas-powered models being the most popular options, they are also available in electric and cordless options.

However, they will only be ideal for seasonal use as they will not work for other things like breaking up soil and do not dig very deep.

Pros:

  • Simple and easy to operate design
  • More affordable to buy
  • Compact for easier storage and transportation
  • Great for weeding and mixing soil

Cons:

  • Only good for seasonal use
  • Will not dig very deep
  • Limited functionality

Tiller Overview

Tiller

Tillers are larger and more powerful gardening machines that are designed to break up hard, compacted soils when preparing a garden for planting.

These powerful machines have been built to handle larger gardens and plot sizes and will get the job done much faster than when using a regular cultivator.

Because they will need more power to get the job done, most are gas-powered and will come with the more efficient 4-cycle engines. And they will deliver wider and deeper tilling to open up the soil and make it smooth and loose enough for plants to grow.

Also, their larger size means they will also come with wheels to make them easier to push forward when tilling. Holding them upright should also not take much effort as they will typically also have a stand.

In addition to all this, using a tiller will also take relatively less effort despite the size and power as it will often come with a transmission that includes forward drive to eliminate the need to push it forward manually.

But, the larger and bulkier size means they will be harder to store as they take up more room. They will also come at a higher price tag than cultivators.

Pros:

  • Great for breaking up hard soils
  • Works well for larger gardens
  • Runs on cleaner and more efficient engine
  • Digs deeper into the ground
  • Accommodates more attachments for increased versatility

Cons:

  • Higher purchase price
  • Larger and bulkier dimensions
  • More tedious operation and maintenance

Comparison Table


Cultivator

Tiller

Ideal Uses

Mixing soil, weeding, working in fertilizer or compost

Breaking hard ground, loosening rocky soil, installing a new garden

Overall Size

Small and more compact

Large and bulky

Types

Spring tine, rigid tine, rigid tine shovel type, and bar point cultivator

Front-tine, rear-tine, and vertical-tine tillers

Engine

2-cycle

4-cycle

Maximum Garden Size

Up to 1,500 sq. ft.

Up to 5,000 sq. ft.

Ease of Use

Simpler

More complicated

Price

$100 to $400

$300 to $3,000

Cultivator vs. Tiller

Cultivators and tillers are a must-have for anyone planning to start a garden or already has one. While having both is a great idea for those with larger plots, for many other gardeners just one will be enough. Here are their key differences to help you decide what to buy.

1. Ideal Uses

While they might look very similar and will often be used interchangeably, cultivators and tiller are built for different purposes. Whether you are a regular home gardener or professional you need to know what each does best.

Cultivators

Although you can still use cultivators to break up the soil if your soil is not very compacted, they will not do a very good job. Cultivators will be more ideal for use when the soil has already been tilled.

You can use them to mix in compost or fertilizers and also to prepare mulch on the surface to conserve moisture. Also, these farm tools will work great when preparing rows for planting and with the right attachment can also help you sow seeds.

Once the plants sprout, you can also rely on cultivators to help you get rid of weeds while also keeping the soil aerated.

Tillers

When you want to break ground to start a new garden, tillers are what you will need to bring out as they are designed to dig through hard and compacted soils with ease and do it fast.

They will be great at the start of the planting season as they will help you get your plot ready for planting. The larger tines will dig deeper and wider and the powerful engines will ensure you get the job done within a shorter time.

Tillers will also come in handy after harvesting as they will help mix in the leftover plants into the soil for composting to give the soil valuable nutrients.

Read More: 10 Best Soil Test Kits

2. Overall Size

Size also matters with any farm tool as it determines how easy it will be to handle and also the conveniences of storing it afterward.

For the size, the cultivator will be the more compact of the two and will hence take up little room when storing. A typical cultivator will come with a smaller engine that makes it more lightweight and will also have a significantly smaller frame. This smaller size also makes it easier to maneuver when tilling.

Tillers, on the other hand, are a larger and more powerful machine that will come with a heavy-duty and thicker frame that can make them harder to maneuver. And storing them will also be more tedious as they will take up a lot of room.

3. Types

All cultivators and tillers are not made the same. And besides the obvious brand and model differences, they will both come in different types that are designed for different uses. As you try to pick between the two, it is also worth knowing the type options that each has to offer.

Cultivators

Cultivators will come in four main types that will differ in design and what they can do. These four types are the spring tine, rigid tine, rigid tine shovel type, and bar point or mounted type cultivators.

Spring tine cultivators use heavy-duty springs which is what sets them apart from the others, and they will ensure the tine don't break when they encounter something hard. This cultivator will be perfect for both dry and wet soils.

Rigid tine cultivators are tractor-mounted, and they will include a rigid frame with shovels and adjustable rigid tines. The rigid tine shovel type cultivator is the most common type for agriculture and will have a rectangular frame with sturdy tines. 

The last type is the bar point cultivator which is also tractor operated and will have bar points attached on a rectangular steel frame.

Tillers

With tillers, you will get three main options based on the tine location which are the front-tine, rear-tine and vertical-tine tillers and each will be designed for a different application.

Front-tine tillers will have their tines in front of the wheels, and they are easy to maneuver between rows but not as powerful as the two other types.

With the rear-tine tillers, you get more powerful tines located behind the wheels and engine. These will be perfect for breaking new ground, but their size and the extra power make them less maneuverable.

Vertical-tine tillers are a newer type. Instead of cutting downwards like other tillers, they cut in a forward direction which makes them faster for both soil stirring and breaking new ground.

4. Engine

When it comes to the engines, the tillers have to be more powerful than the cultivators given the heavier job they are required to do.

Using the gas engines as an example given that they are what you will typically get on most tillers and cultivators, the latter will have a 2-cycle engine while the former uses the 4-cycle engine.

The 2-cycle engines on the cultivator offer enough power for their intended use and are also more lightweight, but they come with extra work as they use a gas and oil mix.

With the 4-cycle tiller engine, you do not need to mix gas and oil, and the engines are also more efficient but will generally be heavier which adds more weight to the tool.

5. Maximum Garden Size

While both the tiller and cultivator will get more work down than when using manual methods like garden hoe and fork, they will be suitable for different plot sizes.

Given that it is more powerful and digs deeper and wider, the tiller will be ideal for plot sizes of up to 5,000 square feet or even larger if you have the time and energy to continue tilling.

Cultivators, on the other hand, will work best for smaller gardens and plots and they should be good enough provided area is not more than 1,500 square inches large.

6. Ease of Use

The ease of use will be more subjective and will largely depend on the cultivator or tiller model you buy because some companies make easier tools to use than others.

However, overall the cultivator seems much easier to use given its smaller size and the fact that it takes little effort to push forward. Also, the cultivator will be much easier to maneuver for most people than the tiller.

Tillers can give you a hard time because the extra bulk means that you need to exert more effort to use one. However, most modern ones will include a transmission system to help move them forward, and the presence of wheels and stand should also make them relatively easier to use.

7. Price

Given that the tiller is the larger and more powerful of the two gardening tools, it should be obvious that it will cost significantly more.

However, things are not always that straightforward when it comes to pricing because with both tools, what you end up paying mostly depends on the type, model and brand that you are buying.

In many instances, you can expect to pay between $100 and $400 for a cultivator depending on the type. But, for tillers, the cheapest option which is the front-tine tiller costs between $300 and $550. The larger and more powerful vertical-tine and rear-tine tillers can cost as little as $300 or as much as $3,000 and even more.

Conclusion

Tillers and cultivators are amazing tools that will come in handy for anyone that likes working on gardens as they will make tilling and cultivating the land faster and easier.

If you have a larger garden and can afford both the better as they will be ideal for different uses. But, if you just want one, you need to know what each is good for. Our overview and comparison above now make this clear.

Looking at their differences, the cultivator will be perfect for weeding and mixing in compost and manure into the soil for those with small gardens. However, anyone with a larger garden and those that also want to break ground for a new garden will be better off with a tiller.