best large garden tiller

How To Use, Start, and Operate A Garden Tiller – Step By Step Guide

If you’re planning to build a successful garden, then you definitely want fertile soil. One of the easiest and most effective ways to prepare your soil and increase its fertility is through garden tilling.

But how do gardens and farmers do it? Well, they use tillers. Manual tillers were the first to appear, and while they’re still used for preparing very limited areas, automatic tillers are the go-to for people looking to cultivate larger areas.

So if you want to maximize your soil’s potential and achieve the best possible yield, knowing how to use a garden tiller is key. 

In this article, you’re getting a step by step guide for the whole process, from preparing your soil all the way to operating different types of tillers. Let’s get started!

Step 1. Know When to Use a Garden Tiller


Before you even think about tilling your garden, you should determine whether or not it’s a suitable time to do so. If you’re planning to use a garden tiller in spring or autumn, then you’re in luck because these are the two best seasons for tilling soil.

Once you settle on a general timing, make sure you don’t use the tiller when the soil is wet; this can cause the soil to become compact and even excessively dry. To achieve the best results, wait for a day or two after there’s been rain.

Otherwise, if it hasn’t rained recently, you can resort to watering the soil yourself a couple of days before the date you plan on tilling. This will make the soil easier for you to work with. You can use a hose or some sprinklers to water the garden.

  • Bonus tip – to test if the soil has the proper moisture level required for tilling, squeeze a handful of dirt into a ball then push one finger gently against the ball. If it crumbles, this means the soil is ready for tilling.

Step 2. Prepare the Soil

To create a masterpiece, you should first make sure that your canvas is neat and ready. Similarly, before you start cultivating your garden, you should prepare the soil for tilling and planting. 

Get rid of obstructions 

In the world of gardening, obstructions refer to large stones, rocks, tree roots, or any other object that can make it difficult to till the ground. This is particularly true when we talk about large stones since they can get in the way of the tiller and cause hiccups, so be sure to remove them before you use a tiller.

It’s a good idea for you to walk up and down through the garden to gather thick weeds, roots, and rocks. These things won’t just prevent your tiller from working properly, but they can also act as obstacles for growing seedlings. Your plants will actually have better survival chances when the soil is clear.

Remove existing plants and roots

Going in line with the previous step, you should also remove any plants, grass, sod, or roots that are already grown in the soil you plan to till. Think about it, the whole point of tilling is to prepare the land for new plants, so it makes sense for you to ditch the old ones.

Start by digging into the ground around the roots using a shovel. Dig a few inches away from the plant at a 45-degree angle directed towards the center of the roots. This will cut the roots with the shovel so you can easily pull them out by hand.

As for sod, you can choose one or a combination of the following techniques:

  • Use a sod cutter.
  • Dig out sod patches with a shovel.
  • Kill the lawn using herbicide.
  • Kill the lawn by light deprivation.
  • Bonus tip – you can make use of dead plants by turning them into fertilizer. Just leave then in the tilling area and they’ll get mulched into organic matter for your new garden.

Enhance the soil 

After you’re done getting all the unwanted stuff out of the way, you can take the chance and add some materials to enhance the condition of the soil and make it more favorable for the plants.

For example, you can use lime or wood ash to balance the PH of acidic soil. Alternatively, you can apply compost, sawdust, or peat moss to raise the PH of alkaline soil.

Sandy or clay-like soil can also benefit from old compost, peat moss, or mulched leaves.

Step 3. Start the Garden Tiller

Once you’re finished preparing the soil for tilling, it’s time for you to use your garden tiller. But before you jump into action, you need to adjust the tilling depth, suit up, and actually start the machine! It may not be the simplest task if you’re a beginner, but here’s a breakdown to help you master this step:

Adjust Tilling Depth

Most garden tillers are front-tine tillers because they’re easier to use and maneuver. Such tillers are equipped with a metal component that controls the depth of tilling.  It’s typically located behind the tines and you can adjust the depth by sliding this part up or down.

That being said, you must keep the depth regulator all the way up during the first pass to avoid digging too deep in the initial till. In this case, the tines will deliver shallow tilling as you pass the tiller over the soil.

Set the tiller to the shallowest depth if you’re dealing with hard-packed and compact soil. If you’re working with softer land, you can probably start with a medium setting.

Wear Personal Safety Equipment 

Now, I can’t stress this enough; always make sure you wear personal safety equipment before operating heavy machinery such as tillers. Don’t overlook this or you’ll be putting yourself in serious danger.

For starters, you should wear safety glasses while using a garden tiller to protect your eyes from all the debris, dirt, and rocks that can be thrown around by the tines. For the same reason, it’s a good idea for you to wear pants and long sleeves.

Never wear sandals or open shoes when you’re operating a garden tiller or any machine with blades for that matter. Instead, opt for steel toe or safety boots to protect your feet and toes from the razor-sharp blades.

Start the Engine 

Once you have everything set in place, it’s finally time to start the tiller’s engine. How to turn on your engine depends mainly on the motor configuration of the tiller, aka whether it’s gas-powered or runs on electricity.

Gas-powered Engines

Tillers with engines powered by fuel are generally more complicated to fire up. First, you need to locate the On and Off switch of the engine then turn it on. 

Unlike most electric models, flipping this switch won’t make the tiller work right away, but the machine must be on before you can actually fire up the engine.

The next step is to open the throttle which allows the gas into the engine. This is also done before you get to start the engine. The positions of the throttle lever are typically indicated by a rabbit and a turtle; you want to push the lever to the rabbit for the throttle to open.

After that, you need to engage the choke. The choke is a valve that regulates the flow of air into the engine. Engaging the choke means you’ll be closing this valve to let enough fuel into the engine so it’s easier to start.

The engine is likely to fail if there’s an excessive air intake in the engine because it won’t have a sufficient amount of fuel.

Engaging the choke should be followed by pulling the cord of the engine’s recoil in one swift and steady motion. If the engine doesn’t start on the first try, let the cord pull back and give it another go.

Electrically-operated Engines

As for electrically-operated engines, the process is much simpler. They’re usually equipped with a push-button that starts the engine. Once you turn it on, you just need to pull the recoil cord.

Since there’s no gas or fuel involved, you’re going to skip the throttle and choke steps.

Step 4. Use the Garden Tiller Correctly

Lastly, here are some tips to help you use the garden tiller properly:

  • On the first pass, be careful not to dig too deep. Use the shallowest setting for hard soil, or start with a medium depth if the ground is softer.
  • If the soil is too hard, don’t respond by increasing pressure on the tiller. Instead, do two passes in opposite directions.
  • For a front-tine tiller, you don’t need to push it to move because it’s already designed to propel itself forward. You do, however, need to use physical force to somewhat hold back the tiller so the tines can dig deep into the soil.
  • Work in alternating rows so you can easily maneuver the tiller.

Wrap Up

There you have it, a complete walk through on how to use a garden tiller. When you’re ready to begin your gardening project, be sure to follow our guide so you can properly prepare your land for planting.