Pros and Cons of a Cultivator vs Tiller

Hard soil with cracks

While it may just sound like one of those tools that has two names, a cultivator is not a tiller. If you placed the two machines side by side you would see the difference in size as well as the difference in some of the design. 

Let’s dig right in to set apart what makes these two gardening devices different and what the best use is for each tool. 

Cultivator vs Tiller

In the battle of these two garden tools, here are the main differences that you need to know to tell them apart in order to seek out which one you need for your dream fairy light garden and more.

Depth of Digging

A cultivator is made for light surface digging, it can break the earth a little but it is not made to be powerful enough to dig down into hard ground. Instead this tool excels in working with already dug up and loosened dirt. 

A tiller on the other hand is a very powerful tool that has a strong motor and specialized blades made to cut down into hard earth and break it open. It doesn’t have the softer hand when it comes to digging in the dirt and was made for making holes. 

A shovel digging up some soil

Digger Wheels

Looking at the metal wheels or tines on these two machines, you can easily tell which one looks like it could move some soil around and which one could do some damage to a patch of dirt. 

Cultivators will have more petite dirt moving rounded circle like tines. These smaller wheels won’t penetrate into the soil or earth very deep, which is perfect for what you would use them for. Without having a tiller next to it, a cultivator may seem like a good tool for digging up a garden, but unless the soil is loosened, you are going to be having a hard time creating an ideal loose soil area for your garden in the backyard.

Tillers on the other hand are much bigger and have large tines with claw-like features that can penetrate and pull up dirt. These powerful machines look like they could really do some damage to the ground once you turn them on. 

Body Design

Much like the tines or wheels of these two machines, the body designs are a good indicator of the potential power that each has. 

A cultivator is going to have a small overall body. It will not be as wide as the tiller. Inside, the motor is a little smaller since it only needs to offer so much power to get it’s projected jobs done. With the more petite body design, this machine is easier to handle. 

Tillers on the other hand are much stronger and come in bigger varied body designs. There are front line tillers that look more like cultivators. These machines have the wheels directly under the body and are made to lead with the tines. The other type are rear line tillers. 

Rear line tillers are best used for tilling up large or long areas. The tines are in the back and this machine has a self propelled motor to get it moving as soon as you start it up, reducing how much arm movement you need to provide to direct it forward or backwards. 

When to Use a Cultivator

Now that you know the main differences between the two, here are some tasks that you will need a cultivator for. 

A red cultivator in the middle of the soil

Aerating Soil

While you may not think aerating the soil is a must, this process is important for poor quality soils like clay based and high traffic areas in your garden and lawn. When you aerate the soil, what you are doing is primarily breaking it open some so that air, water and other plant producing particles can make their way into the ground. 

Soil that has a lot of clay in it will not have good drainage, since clay tends to lump up and create barriers. High traffic areas in your garden or lawn will pack down the soil, creating bare areas due to constant friction on the surface as well as compacted areas that pond water instead of being able to absorb it into the ground. 

Using a cultivator to break up the area will help promote better drainage, growth and soil quality since bugs and other earth insects can get in there to help promote a better plant growing ecosystem.

Pulling Weeds

If you have a garden then you know that weeds happen. If you have a small bed of veggies then it may be easy to bend down and pick the few that come up, but for large gardens or individuals that don’t want to bend or kneel to pick weeds a cultivator is a must have. 

The cultivator’s light digging is perfect for pulling up weeds that are around your veggies without harming the root system underneath. Just make sure that you keep some distance around the main stalk of the plant while you are moving around it. 

Mixing Soils

Having an already established garden, then it is important to mix in new fertilizer and plant food before the new growing season, as well as make sure that you add a little more in as the fruits and veggies start producing. A cultivator is perfect for mixing and incorporating the fertilizer into your already loosened soil plot. 

Man using his ahnds to dig up the soil

Why Not a Tiller?

All of these tasks require a light surface rotation. If you use a tiller for any of the projects you will end up digger deeper into the earth which can make your garden deeper when all you want to do is add fertilizer or tear up your crucial root system when you are really just trying to remove a few surface weeds. 

The light touch that is a cultivator is important and can’t be easily replaced by something that is made to break apart the earth with more force and dig deeper into it. 

When to Use a Tiller

Powerful and ready for hard work, the tiller is the only choice for these tasks below. 

Man pushing a red tiller through the soil

Mixing Hard Soil Into New Dirt

Breaking into new ground to create your garden space can’t be done with a cultivator. The tiller’s deep digging claw tines as well as it’s powerful motor create the perfect machine to break up dirt

Where you would normally use a shovel to pierce the ground and flip over the hard packed in earth to start making a garden bed, the tiller works to reach deep into the earth like a shovel and then pulls up the dirt in large packed down clumps. 

The tiller then goes back over it to break up clumps in order to create a beautiful loose soil bed.

​Loosening Hard or Rocky Soil

If you have rocks embedded in your soil, a cultivator’s light touch won’t cut it. Rocks can potentially damage cultivators since they are not equipped or built to handle large hard object like this. A tiller however, can hold its own when it comes to rocks in the soil. 

A tiller is powerful enough to dig up and around rocks to break them out of the soil while still doing the work of digging up the earth and creating a loose soil area. 

Hard soil with cracks

Moderate Work vs Hard Work 

It is important to know that while a tiller is important to have if you are breaking new ground, you should consider what type of tiller will fit the work you need. 

Front Line Tiller

Built similar to a cultivator, a front line tiller is great for breaking the ground on smaller home improvement garden projects. It will break down into decently tough ground with ease. 

However, this is not the stronger of the two models and is best for smaller projects where you will not be dealing with a lot of hard additions to the soil. It can handle some smaller sized rocks and debris in the soil. 

Rear Line Tiller

For large projects and bigger garden areas, the rear line tiller is the perfect choice. It can break apart almost any land that is hard, packed down and even full of small or medium sized rocks. 

This is also the perfect tiller for a lot of travelling since it is built to propel itself forward, making large areas and long lines easy to tackle. 

Which Tool Do I Need?

Now that you know the difference between a cultivator vs a tiller, you can see how both of these tools can fit into your gardening routine. 

If you are building a gardening or lawn area from nothing then you will need a tiller to do the work for you. In summary, tillers are great for:

  • ​Mixing old, hard soil and turning into soft soil suitable for planting
  • ​Loosing hard and rocky soil up for additional work
Silhouette of people using a tiller

On the other hand, for upkeep and routine prepping for spring you will want to have a cultivator handy for more frequent use. Cultivators are great at:

  • ​Aerating soil to increase oxygen
  • ​Mixing fertilizer into soil
  • ​Removing weeds

While they can be a little expensive, in the long run you will benefit from having both machines readily available to use. Whether you are digging a new bed, deepening an already established bed or simply moving the soil around to aerate it, these two garden tools are a must have for any serious gardener to better upkeep and grow fresh veggies.