Tilling is an age-old method of loosening the soil before planting. The purpose of tilling soil is to work in needed ingredients like nitrogen, phosphorous and compost to prepare and boost soil’s overall health. Tilling is typically done with a rototiller or cultivator and is seen as the best soil preparation method for in-ground gardens. However, it can also be done in a raised bed with a cultivator.
While tilling soil provides many benefits, it’s sometimes a skipped task on gardeners’ to-do lists. So, before you start another planting season, here are some of the benefits of tilling soil. We’ll explain why you should consider tilling as a routine seasonal project, and how to till sections of soil in preparation for both flower and vegetable gardens.
What Are the Benefits of Tilling Soil?
- Aeration: Poor soil aeration can leave your garden looking dry, not to mention deter plant growth. However, tilling can relieve soil of such conditions by adding air back into the soil to encourage plant growth. Air can be squeezed out of the soil by foot traffic, wheelbarrows and other heavy instruments. Well-aerated soil also permits water, oxygen and other nutrients to reach plant roots easily and efficiently, which is important because light and airy soil is vital to a bountiful garden. This is why management of soil aeration is a crucial step in your gardening process.
- Weed Prevention: Weeds and insects can be very problematic and hinder or even stop the growth of plants in your garden. People often ask whether tilling will kill weeds. Turning your soil twice a year is a good defense against weeds and other insects that might invade and damage your plants. Tilling also helps break down weed roots, along with the homes of other insects, helping to prevent these pests from intruding into your garden.
- Balancing: Whether you choose to fill your garden with colorful flowers or veggies and fruits, you can keep your plants flourishing with the proper soil balance. You should till fertilizer and other organic materials into the ground during the tilling process to allow the soil to become enriched with ingredients it may lack and to create a suitable growing environment for plants.
How to Till a New Flower Bed
If you want to transition a spot of lawn to a flower bed, you should follow these steps on how to till a new flower bed.
- To begin, you need to remove the grass, including the roots, using a shovel. Moisten the section of soil before tilling to help make the job easier.
- Prepare the soil by tilling or turning over with a rototiller. Using a tiller makes the job easier and grates the soil well.
- After tilling, add soil amendments, such as peat moss, breaking it up well before applying in a layer up to an inch thick. You can also follow with a layer of engineered soil for improved water retention.
- Finally, till the flower bed once more in a quick pass to work the amendments in. Now the flower bed is ready for planting.
How to Till a Garden Bed
If you’re tilling a large garden to break up clumps of soil, mix in compost or other nutrients, or break up last year’s roots, a rototiller can do a great job here. To till a garden bed, follow these steps:
- Begin by preparing the area by removing weeds, stones and large roots. You might want to use a hoe to loosen up any thick roots and foliage and to help loosen rocks.
- Mark out the borders and rows of the garden bed before tilling, then spread a thick layer of compost onto the soil before tilling.
- When tilling, move slowly, allowing the tiller to turn over the soil. When preparing a seedbed, go over the same path twice in the first row, then overlap one-half the tiller width on the rest of the passes. When finished in one direction, make a second pass at a right angle. Overlap each pass for best results.
In very hard ground, it may take three or four passes to thoroughly pulverize the soil. If the garden size will not permit lengthwise and then crosswise tilling, then overlap the first passes by one-half a tiller width, followed by successive passes at one-quarter width.
Now you’re wondering: How often should you till your garden? It’s recommended to till your garden twice a year – once in the spring before planting and once after the harvesting season to make sure soil stays healthy.
Additional Garden Tilling Tips
- When tilling, watering the garden area a few days prior will make the task easier, as will letting the newly worked soil set for a day or two before making a final, deep tilling pass.
- Till only on moderate slopes, never on steep ground where footing is difficult.
- Tilling up and down slopes is recommended, rather than terracing. Tilling vertically allows maximum planting area and also leaves room for cultivating. However, when tilling on slopes, be sure the correct oil level is maintained in the engine.
- When tilling a slope, to keep soil erosion to a minimum, be sure to add enough organic matter to the soil so that it has good moisture-holding texture. Try to avoid leaving footprints or wheel marks.
- When tilling on a hill, try to make the first pass uphill, as the tiller digs more deeply going uphill than it does downhill. In soft soil or weeds, you may have to lift the handlebars slightly while going uphill. When going downhill, overlap the first pass by about one-half the width of the tiller.
What Kind of Tiller Do I Need?
When asking yourself how to choose a tiller, keep in mind that proper tilling tools and techniques are dependent on the size of your garden and the type of soil you have. Rear-tine tillers, like the Troy-Bilt® Mustang™ Dual-Direction Garden Tiller, are great for use on larger gardens and when breaking new ground. Smaller gardens and established beds can be prepped, planted and maintained using a front-tine tiller, like the Colt™ FT Garden Tiller. A smaller cultivator, like the TBC304 Garden Cultivator, can be useful for quick projects and garden maintenance. As you can see, the answer to what size tiller you need depends on your situation and the amount of soil you are tending to.