How Do I Till Different Types of Soil?

The key to a lush garden and a good harvest lives within your soil. Soil is one of the most important elements in your garden because it provides the food, water and air your plants need to grow. After the winter season or before you start a new garden, your soil will need a little extra TLC to make sure it has the consistency and nutrients your plants need. 

The first step you'll need to take is to determine what type of tiller works best for your garden. Smaller gardens and established beds can be prepped, planted and maintained using a front-tine tiller like the Colt' FT. If you have hard-packed, clay or rocky soil, look for a rear-tine tiller, like the Super Bronco' CRT, that can turn heavier types of soil and break new ground.

Next, you'll need to determine what type of soil is in your garden. Here are some basic types of soil:

  • Clay is a heavy type of soil made up of small particles that stick together. It is good for vegetable gardening, but compacts easily, especially when wet. 
  • Rocky soil contains an excessive amount of rocks/rock fragments above and below the surface. It often lacks nutrients and proper water retention. 
  • Sandy soil is made of at least 50% sand, with the remaining parts made of clay and silt. This soil also has a lot of rocks, which makes it difficult to till. 
 

How to Till Clay Soil 

  • rear-tine tiller is the best tool for breaking through clay soil. 
  • Till the soil by going back and forth in one direction. Then, make a second pass through the soil perpendicular to your first pass. 
  • When finished, the soil should be loose and fine with no clumps. 
  • Clay soil drains quickly, so you will want to add compost to help it retain water and nutrients for your plants. You will want to add approximately 3-4 inches of organic material and 3-4 inches of builder's sand. Add the layer of organic materials first and mix it in, then add the sand and mix it into the organic/clay mix. 
    • Avoid compost materials that are high in salt, like manure, which can burn plants' roots or even kill them. Materials made of plant matter are typically low in salt making them the best choice for clay soil. 
 

 

How to Till Rocky Soil

  • rear-tine tiller is the best tool for rocky soil.  
  • Use a straight rake to remove any surface rocks and debris from the area. 
  • Remember to walk slowly and be on the lookout for large rocks when tilling, as this can cause injury to you or your equipment. 
  • Till the soil by going back and forth in one direction. Then, make a second pass through the soil perpendicular to your first pass. 
  • When finished, the soil should be loose and fine with no clumps. 
  • Rocky soil can lack nutrients and proper water retention, so you should add 3-4 inches of compost to the soil. After adding compost, go over the area with your tiller again to work the compost into the soil.  
    • Good choices for this type of compost include peat moss, well-rotted manure and even grass trimmings. Peat moss can help with retaining moisture, while other organic materials replace nutrients in the soil. Talk to someone at your local garden store to find the best combination for your soil. 
 

How to Till Sandy Soil

  • A rear-tine tiller is the best tool if you are breaking new ground. For existing beds, use a front-tine tiller.    
  • Till the soil by going back and forth in one direction. Then, make a second pass through the soil perpendicular to your first pass. 
  • When finished, the soil should be loose and fine with no clumps. 
  • Sandy soil may be unable to hold water and nutrients that your plants need to survive. Add compost that is low in salt to your soil. Materials with high amounts of salt, like compost, can burn your plants roots or even kill them. 
    • Vermiculite and sphagnum peat are popular choices to amend sandy soil. Mix thoroughly with soil to improve quality. If you do not properly mix amendments, they can interfere with the movement of air and water, affecting plant growth.