What Is The Difference Between A Tiller And A Cultivator?

Working the soil on your homestead can be done in multiple ways. It can range from working it by hand to heavy equipment using tractors and other large machinery. Using a cultivator or tiller can be a bit confusing because the tools are incredibly similar. So, it’s important to know the difference between a tiller and a cultivator and what they can both do for you on the homestead!

What Is A Tiller?

A tiller is like the heavy-duty brother to the cultivator. It packs more power and delivers more bang for your buck, turning soil and breaking through hard patches without much effort. It’s great to prepare unworked land.

A tiller is usually used when creating a new bed that has existing vegetation that can be left in place to be tilled into the soil to compost in place. The common models are either front-tine tillers or rear-tine tillers. Both of them serve the same purpose, however.

It can be used similar to a cultivator to stir soils and reduce weeds between crops, but the tines typically dig deep and can damage current crops that are planted. This is more suitable for your cultivator.

When To Use A Tiller

If you have a new area that you’d like to turn into a garden, your tiller is the perfect tool. It can till deep enough to turn up large weed roots and compost them in place. If you have a bare patch of land and you decide to turn the tiller on it, you should know that tilling can activate dormant seeds in the natural seed bank, meaning more plant/weed growth in the near future.

If this happens, you can switch to the cultivator to remove the new weeds that don’t have such an established root structure.

Tillers can be great to mix in compost or garden amendments if you want those added materials stirred deep into the soil. For most annual garden beds the tiller will mix the amendments a bit too far below where your crop roots will reach, but it can be great to establish better soil for deeper gardens suitable for perennials and even trees.

What Is A Cultivator?

What Is A Cultivator

As you can probably tell from the previous section describing tillers, a cultivator is like the little brother of the family. It is a lighter tool that is great for the same kind of work on a smaller basis. It won’t turn the soil as much as a tiller and is great for more delicate work, like turning up weeds between established crops.

When you have crops planted already, you don’t want to put a tiller in the bed and dig so deep that you take out the crop roots along with the weeds. Cultivators work much closer to the soil surface.

They are also useful for preparing an already established garden plot that isn’t compacted like an unworked area.

When To Use A Cultivator

If you have a garden planted already and have weeds popping up around your plants, you can use a cultivator to turn them to uproot their growth and let them compost in place to feed your crops as well.

If you are in-between seasons in the garden and you want to turn some compost or other amendments into the existing garden beds that are already loose and structured well, a cultivator is best. It will turn in the new materials only a couple of inches deep without disrupting the intricate soil life structure full of microorganisms that help feed your crops year-round.

Cultivators also shine when working on a raised garden bed. Since raised beds rarely get stepped on, they have essentially no risk for over-compacting. Turning in new soil, amendments, and compost with your cultivator in raised beds turns a job that is normally done by hand into a machine-aided job that takes but a few minutes!

Pros & Cons Of Tillers Vs Cultivators

Tillers and cultivators have been around for a long time and have helped homesteaders and gardeners everywhere. They work in tandem for a complete garden toolset, but each has a few pros and cons above the other if you had to only choose just one. Here are the pros and cons for tillers and cultivators




Great to work compacted native soilsTills too deep for established crops
Removes weeds with large root structuresHeavier and harder to maneuver
Turns materials deeply 
Quick & efficient 




Great to work established garden bedsDoesn’t till deep enough to kill large perennial weeds
Perfect to mix compost and amendmentsCan’t work virgin soil that is heavy and compacted
Useful to reduce weeds during the growing season 
Lightweight and easy to maneuver 

These tables should clear up the benefits and drawbacks of each of these garden tools to help you make an informed decision when researching the best tool to purchase to help you get the job done!

We’ve Got Some Soil To Work!

Hopefully, this has taught you enough about each of these homestead tools and how you can utilize each for the maximum benefit. In reality, both of these tools are branches off of the same tree.

  • A cultivator is a lower-powered tool that is great for mixing loose soil and scratching up weeds during the growing season.
  • A tiller is great for breaking up hard soils and rooting up large-rooted perennial weeds to prepare a garden bed before you plant it out.

Chances are, you can make use of both of these wonderful tools in the garden and elsewhere on the homestead!

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