Tilling is an age-old method of loosening the soil before planting. It is often accompanied by working in needed ingredients like nitrogen, phosphorous and compost to prepare and boost its 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.
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. 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 reasons why you should consider tilling as a routine seasonal project:
Suffocated soil 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.
Weeds and insects can be very problematic and hinder or even stop the growth of plants in your garden. Turning your soil twice a year is a good defense against weeds and other insects from invading and damaging your plants. Tilling also helps break down weed roots, along with the homes of other insects, helping to prevent these pests from intruding your garden.
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. Adding fertilizer and other organic materials into the ground during the tilling process allows the soil to become enriched with ingredients it may lack to create a suitable growing environment for plants.
Tips on Tilling, Tilling Patterns and Tilling on Slopes
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. Here are some additional tips related to tilling patterns and areas:
- 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.
- 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 and 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.
Selecting the Right 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 new Troy-Bilt Colt FT Garden Tiller. A smaller cultivator, like the TBC304 Garden Cultivator, can be useful for quick projects and garden maintenance.