What tiller do you use?

AZtransplant2005(z7 - Raleigh)August 20, 2005

I am going to purchase a tiller (small) for my garden beds. I think that electric will be easier for me than a motored one. If you have any strong feelings on any kind, pro or con, please let me know. I want to get it soon, so I can get the beds ready for fall.



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chapelhillgardener(7a NC OrangeCo)

i use a Mantis knock-off the kids got me for Christmas about 5 years ago - from Lowe's. It's gasoline powered, but still very lightweight, easy to start & a breeze to use. an electric version wouldn't be practical here - we're exterior outlet challenged, and it would take a lot of cord to reach some areas. this little machine isn't suitable for tilling up new areas, at least in my mostly hard-clay yard - i still do that the old fashioned way: dh starts with a pick axe and i follow with a shovel. then i add a ton of amendments - THEN i bring out the little tiller. it's great in established beds as well - small enough to go around existing plants - it gets its biggest work out in the spring when i incorporate all the leaf compost i've top-dressed/mulched with in the fall.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2005 at 6:57AM
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Rulfton(WNC Zone 7ish)

I'd suggest going ahead and buying a gasoline powered tiller. If you're like most gardeners your gardens will keep radiating out and you'll find more ways and reasons to use your tiller. The further you get away from your source of power the more voltage drop you will incur which will make your tiller less effective and will eventually damage the motor. Drop cords are a pain to maintain and unless handled properly can be dangerous.
Troy Built tillers are well made and some of the easiest to handle, I'd suggest you look at a small model.


    Bookmark   August 21, 2005 at 9:21AM
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I have the 3.5hp Troybuilt Tuffy. Been going strong for 10+ years. I couldn't recommend it strongly enough. Nothing has ever bogged it down. Even wrapped up in Wisteria vines it will keep slogging. Have I mentioned how many old horseshoes it has unearthed? Turn of the century blacksmith shop where I garden now.
I just change oil when it starts to look thick and change the sparkplug if it takes more than 2 pulls to crank.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2005 at 11:49AM
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Rulfton(WNC Zone 7ish)

I bought a used "Horse" sized Troy Built about 8 years ago, it has an 8 hp motor and it's actually too big for my purposes. It was one of those offers I couldn't refuse, though. It has been a great tiller as far as low maintenance and getting the job done, but most of the time I wish I had a smaller size.

It's just as easy to buy too much tiller as it is to buy too little.


    Bookmark   August 21, 2005 at 2:32PM
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AZtransplant2005(z7 - Raleigh)

Hmmm - I really had planned on an electric one that I couldn't mess up by not wiggling the doo-wop, or letting the frankmaster frumble. Shows you how motor-savvy I am! I am seriously afraid that I would end up ruining a good tiller due to ignorance. What kind of upkeep is required? I read about "mixing gas and oil" - even that sounds scary to me. Could I store a gas powered one in my basement/garage, or do I have to find a place for it outdoors? I will be working on the yards closest to home for the next year or two,so I don't think power will be a problem until after I get all that done. Maybe after that I could upgrade to a motored one.

I saw a couple of different models on-line - Garden Wizard Electric Tiller, and the Mantis Electric Tiller. The Mantis was the only one with reviews written about it, so I am leaning toward that one. Anyone have any info about the other, or the Mantis, I would love to hear it.


    Bookmark   August 21, 2005 at 4:13PM
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jeffahayes(8a Upstate SC)

I had a Mantis for a bit over 2 years and loved it -- even dug my ponds with it... but after it was stolen a bit over 2 years ago I found out a company called BCS has a "cultivator" that is the same machine with different tines they call "bolo" but I find much better than standard bolo tines...

At any rate, it does as good or better job of sodbusting as did the Mantis, and was less money, retail, when I got it, as local retailers had gone up on Mantis. Mantis' tines also have the very annoying habit of getting clogged sometimes, and you may need a small sledgehammer to dislodge some of the rocks and roots that get in there... or a pruning saw or VERY sharp knife on other roots... This clogs some, but not NEARLY so bad.

I'd go with a BCS, if you have a local dealer. I think you can order straight from them, too.

Happy Tilling!

Here is a link that might be useful: BCS

    Bookmark   August 23, 2005 at 12:15AM
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mudpuppy42(z7 NC)

I agonized a long time over a tiller in the spring of '04, and I also considered getting an electric one. I'm glad I didn't, as I would have been unable to use it in a lot of places, besides the fact that having to deal with a cord is a royal pain. I finally got one of the little Hondas--their "Mini-Tiller." Unlike the Mantis, it has a four-stroke engine which doesn't require gas-oil mixing. Besides, I can mess up a two-stroke engine in a heartbeat, have no patience with emptying the gas each time and all the required maintenance. I use a gas stabilizer, and thus avoid the gas-empying chore. The Honda weighs about the same as the Mantis, does a super job, and never (so far) requires more than one or two pulls on the cord to get it going. It also comes with wheels so you can push it where you're going to use it, and it has a depth bar, which I like--sems to improve manoeuvreability. Of course it won't do the heavy stuff a larger tiller will, but if you're muscle-challenged (as I am) it's really great. Wish I'd bought one years ago!

    Bookmark   August 23, 2005 at 1:44AM
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jeffahayes(8a Upstate SC)

As for "heavy stuff," I've chopped through roots an inch or more thick with both the Mantis and the BCS. I find mixing the oil and gas not to be an issue, as I get a 1-gallon can, buy the best oil I can (Opti-2) in packets designed for 1 gallon of gas and put in the can when I fill it up, use ONLY Amoco premium white gas, so I have the BEST gas for my tiller, and so if it does deteriorate some over the season, it's still GOOD gas, and I STILL add a little MORE fuel stabilizer to it...

Doing all this keeps me from having to empty the tank over long storage periods, as would be needed running an oil/gas mixture WITHOUT high-grade fuel and fuel stabilization. And buying only a gallon at a time ensures my gas never gets old enough to be a concern.

While larger tillers may do a wider spot, I challenge many of the bigger tillers to do as good of a job breaking up really hard topsoil or hardpan as does a Mantis or BCS (for one thing, the engine used with those rotates the blades at roughly twice the speed of most other tillers -- including, I believe, the 4-stroke Honda).

That Honda is no doubt an excellent machine, but when I was considering one, I asked someone working at Home Depot how it compared to something like Mantis, and they told me that if I was used to the "Umph" I got from a Mantis, I'd be disappointed with the Honda, as it had lower RPMs... I just took them at their word.

Happy tilling!

    Bookmark   August 23, 2005 at 10:14AM
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In my opinion, what might work for YOU depends on You....and what kind of soil you have....and how frequently you intend to use it. In our rocky clay soil, most people are unable to accomplish much with those light weight 3 cycle tillers---and there are problems with the oil gas mixing.

Most tillers will bounce back when they hit rocks or roots.
The lighter, the more they tend to bounce. You need to be of a certain height and strength to control them. It doesn't require huge strength but it does require some just to get started. The more you use it, the stronger you will become.

Having built perennial beds for my relatives in the NC piedmont, a lightweight might work in their sandy clay soil except for the hot dry periods when the clay hardens. I used a front tine, belt driven tiller and it only bogged down on the larger tree roots.

When I buy another one it will be a small troy built or knock off that is gear driven with forward and reverse. Those features are INVALUABLE when you are starting new beds.

I would HIGHLY recommend that you find someone whose tiller you can test drive--in your yard--or rent one---before you waste money on something you may not be happy with....or won't accomplish much for you.

Some of the lightweights offer money back guarantees which two of my friends needed to take advantage of.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2005 at 12:15PM
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jeffahayes(8a Upstate SC)

Well, because of the faster speeds of the Mantis-type tiller (the engine runs faster), and the sharp tines, digging hardpan WILL work... I think it would even break up a driveway, given enough time.

Yes, they DO bounce somewhat at first, and YES, that DOES take a bit of arm strength to control. But I've used larger tillers before, and at least the Mantis-types won't get away from you when they encounter obstacles, like some of those will.

You walk BACKWARDS or back and forth, with a Mantis or BCS... but the REAL TRICK to getting your bed started if the soil is REALLY HARD is to work it side to side, and that DOES require a bit of muscling. You don't push it DOWN... you just let it bounce and tip it at slight angles from left to right and let the tiller do the work for you... It will bounce A LOT sometimes, but will come right back down from whence it bounced and dig a bit more, so long as you have enough upper body strength to hold it in place... Being only 20 pounds, roughly, holding it in place is A LOT easier than with a bigger tiller.

As for the oil-gas mixtures, IF you follow my advice and stick to only PREMIUM oil, like the Opti-2, get a SMALL gas can dedicated to the tiller (1-gallon), and buy the oil in only the small package intended for a 1-gallon can at a time, you'll pay more for oil, but a gallon of gas-oil mix is enough for a whole season for me and my tiller now, and even when I was using it more, only a couple gallons per season...

The Opti-2 has fuel stablizer built in. I add the best gas I can buy to that, and then add a bit more Eagle brand fuel stablizer (and Wal-Mart and most other stores where such things are sold... Home Depot, etc.), and the gas stays good all season, even to the next, and I DON'T have to empty the tank and run the tiller dry every time I use it.

NOT doing things this way will leave your tiller carburetor (coming STRAIGHT from the service people where I bought my original Mantis) with slowly deteriorating gasoline gunking up the carburetor, which will then have to be replaced or rebuilt every year or two. I've yet to have such a problem, even when I leave gas in my tiller over the winter... and I've yet to need more than two pulls to start either my original Mantis tiller or the replacement BCS.

Common sense and spending just A BIT MORE on gas and oil save A LOT MORE on service down the road. Even if I had the money and land to need a larger tiller and even a tractor, I'd STILL have and use my BCS...

It's INVALUABLE for smaller spaces (like tilling INSIDE raised brick planters, as I had to do when I replaced the 40-year-old soil in my front brick planter before putting Daphne in it three years back), and it's BY FAR my favorite tool (seeing that I don't have access to a backhoe or similar) for digging holes -- especially for digging and preparing soil to plant a tree or shrub, as it not only digs the hole, but it churns the soil to a fine consistency so I don't have to worry about air gaps and stuff after planting.

I WON'T lend my tiller out, as I can't afford to lose it, but anyone who wants to come by and play with it someday, I can always find an area for which I have future plans I'd be willing to let you work on a bit and get the feel for it.

Happy Tilling!

P.S. As for "renting first" to see if it will meet your needs, Home Depot rents Mantis, but it's about $40 a day... I see NO SENSE in that, as less than a week's rentals would BUY one... If you buy Mantis mail-order, you have a year money-back guarantee, but again, I find my BCS more to my liking.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2005 at 3:00PM
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granite(z6 NC)

had a little 20-lbs Troy built tiller, hated it hated it hated it hated it hated it

A real @##$%^^& to start, would hardly turn soil already loosened with shovel or hoe, smokey and smelly, and $25 or more yearly for tune ups.

I now have my dad's 20+ year old large sized Troy-built tiller (its big, dunno the style as this was before pony and horse etc but it is large). It will till through sod and clay. We use it twice in the spring to break ground to add amendments, and then to turn again before planting. I also plan to use it in the fall to add amendments.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2005 at 10:50PM
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mudpuppy42(z7 NC)

The soil I am "blessed" with is hard as a rock when dry and certainly has more than its share of rocks, stones, and tree roots. So far the Honda has been able to handle that. It does bounce a bit sometimes, particularly when it encounters large rocks (there are some real boulders buried down there in places) and big tree roots, but not to the extent that I can't handle it--and I'm not a very muscular person. It will throw out small stones and bounce off the big ones, cut through the smaller tree roots and bounce off the bigger ones. I use it primarily for digging and, like Jeff, I have come to appreciate its ability to get in small places. I know that a larger (wider) tiller will prepare a bed much more quickly, but I don't think I want to try to manage one. As far as I can tell, these mini tillers will do about anything a big one will. Just takes a bit longer.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2005 at 1:17AM
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Rulfton(WNC Zone 7ish)

I've found when using the smaller Mantis sized tillers that letting the tiller run at a 45 degree angle to the row I'm working in stops a lot of the bouncing and it allows the tiller to cut into the soil and pull itself forward on its own power without running away from you.


    Bookmark   August 25, 2005 at 8:31AM
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sodbuster(7 OK)

I see I am a minority here. I bought a Honda tiller this year and enjoy it very much. It's so easy to start and easy to use. It does the job very well with starting new beds as well as working existing beds. It's a digging little rascal!

    Bookmark   September 2, 2005 at 9:11AM
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billinsc(7B SC)

Troybilt 5 hp Pony here.. Not too big, not to small.. You would be unhappy with an electric tiller..
Bill in SC

    Bookmark   September 3, 2005 at 7:44PM
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vstech(z7 Charlotte)

I have old forest soil scraped by a bobcat down to HARD clay. I tried a 7 HP Horse, it just cut in and pulled me along. way too dificult. I bought a ryobi attachment type weedeater and a mantis type tiller head, too bouncy and odd to use. I finally bought a 4' 3point hitch tiller and a 15HP deisel tractor. DONE! anyway the soil here is still too difficult for the 15HP tractor, but after SEVERAL passes it is ok to plant.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2005 at 9:35PM
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jazzygardener(z4 MN)

Hi, I just purchased a used Honda F210 4 cycle tiller from my neighborhood rental center for $170. It's in good shape and runs well. This is my first tiller and I'm really looking forward to using it. Does anyone know if there are any attachments I can get for it? This tiller is about 4 years old, does anyone know what these sell for new? Just curious.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2006 at 1:22PM
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Tammy Kennedy

i have the little honda 4 cycle from h/d and really like it. i can't start our mower, but i can start the tiller. it's that easy. if you are going to dig hard clay i highly recommend allowing a soaker hose to wet it down good a day or 2 ahead just til it's moist- not soggy. then the tiller can make short work of it. if you try it on dried up clay you'll burn up the motor & kill your back. voice of experience here. that warantee comes in handy! i used ours in part to dig our ponds (along witha a pickaxe before we got the tiller). now, i have to admit, i don't dig it out to remix soil in beds much- i prefer doing that by hand. something satisfying about turning dirt to me. but it is super useful in making new areas.

don't know if it will apply jazzy, but i bought different tines for mine- i didn't like the ones that came with it, and bought the other type. there were other ones available, too- like edgers & such. tammy

    Bookmark   April 8, 2006 at 12:07AM
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Vamptoo(7b/8a SC)

I have the small Yard Man tiller from H/D. It does an ok job but I'm a pretty small person so I have problems. My arm reach is not long enough to pull the cord to start it so my DH starts it for me. Also, maintenance of any and all engines is the DH's responsibility. He likes tinkering with them so I'm lucky in that.

I do have to say it is better than a piece of exercise equipment. Thirty minutes of using the tiller works every part of your body including your jaws. LOL

It will not break up a fresh bed but after the pick axe/shovel routine it does a good job working the soil and blending some soil amendments in.


    Bookmark   April 8, 2006 at 3:06PM
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enigma_2(z5 IN)

I have used many tillers over the years. IMO, electrics are unsuitable for everything except very small spaces.

Currently I'm using a Honda F210, which I purchased new in 1995. Has started on one or two pulls every year & easy to use in very hard soils.

It is without question, the best piece of lawn and garden equipment I have ever owned. Still looks like new and I hace NEVER had to replace of fix anything on it (except for routine maintenance).

This year, because the tines are well worn, I intend to either replace all of the tines ($150 ouch) or just reverse the tines, putting the good face forward.

In hard soils, the trick is to drop the drag bar and allow the tines to engage the ground slowly. You do this by putting slight pressure on the handles, not allowing the tines to rest fully on the ground. As the tines begin to dig in. release pressure the handles and allow the weight of the tiller to dig deeper.

Rocks, had pan and roots will cause all tillers to bounce (all front tine and mid tine that is, rear tine have sufficient weight to remain on course.)

The current Honda model is the F220, (nearly the same as the F210).

And like the F210 you can remove the outer tines to make the unit less wide (good after the plants have grown and little space remains to run a tiller down the rows to weed.

They also come with side shields to keep from entangling the tines with existing plants or chain link fence (something I did on a regular basis with my previous tiller).

Honda has just released a new type of tiller this year. It's also a mid tine, but the alternate tines revolve in opposite directions, giving you the ability to steer and turn with one hand control. Looks to be very easy to control, but haven't actually tried to use one yet as I'd be too tempted.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2008 at 1:38PM
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I have a Mantis myself too. I inherited it from my MIL who purchased then it was a bit much for a 70+ year old woman to run. I love it!! It has chewed up anything I put in front of it! I've got to take it to the shop over the next week or so, my little tornado that took my garden shed out took it and slammed in in the mud and sand. I need a good clean up and service for it. If this tiller cranks, runs and tills up my beds for spring, I'm going to be estactic!! It's not a hard run for a tiller, very easy to control and use. It is very light weight, I can pick it up with one hand. I've used much harder to control tillers. Rocks and roots do cause bounce, as well as really hard clay. It has tilled great beds for me and broke up a lot of hard clay in it's life. If by some chance I can't salvage it, then I'm going to replace with the same. I'm happy with my Mantis.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2008 at 1:02AM
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jqpublic(7b/8a Wake County NC)

Hi guys, I didn't see any word of price/cost. How much do they run? thank!

    Bookmark   April 2, 2008 at 11:07PM
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I think the Mantis is around $400. You have to purchase direct from them, hit Google for a link. Nice machine, it's only about 25LBS. Very managable.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2008 at 11:27PM
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Tammy Kennedy

My 4 cycle honda was around $200 or 250- comparable to the time to the 2 cycle mantises. They now have a 4 cycle as well, but i'm not sure how much more it is. 4 cyc are easier to take care of, a bit more powerful and pollute much less. My honda is the only power yard equipment i have the arm strength to start on my own, so that's saying something. We love it!! Got it at HD, i think, or lowe's (you have to mail order mantises).

    Bookmark   April 2, 2008 at 11:30PM
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That is a great price on the Honda tiller!! I've got to take my Mantis into the shop after it got all bounced around and soaked in the tornado that took our our building. If I have to replace it, I'm definatly going to check into the Honda!

    Bookmark   April 6, 2008 at 3:21PM
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Tammy Kennedy

well, that was about 5+ years ago. At the time i was surprised because the 4cycle honda, which is almost identical to the mantis was the same price as the 2 cycle mantis (at the time mantis didn't have a 4 cycle, but they do now). So it was a no brainer to go with the honda. We've been pleased with it. Put it away one winter w/o running out the gas and gunked up the carburetor and had to have it rebuilt- but that was our fault. My only caution is to be sure to use it, and the mantis i'm sure, on at least semi-moist soil. It'll tear up the engine if you try to use it on dry clay. We used ours to help us dig out one of our ponds- that's how sturdy it is. We're talking hard packed, heavy (though semi moist) clay! If you use it on already worked soil that is too dry you end up with dust, it cuts it up so fine. Then of course when it rains it packs down to much. So, really it's much better to work moderately moist soil.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2008 at 5:49PM
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The Mantis is $299 on amazon.com

Here is a link that might be useful: Link

    Bookmark   April 8, 2008 at 10:30PM
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Just noticed at our local True Value hardware that they are now selling a Troy-Bilt REAR TINE for $400.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2009 at 10:15PM
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dottie_in_charlotte(z7-8 NC)

I had to laugh reading Jeff's old post saying the Mantis bounces some..
Anyone who has met Jeff knows the man could handle a Mantis in each hand with no trouble but for li'l ole me, on compacted soil, Mantises do bounce a lot. Anyone with lower back weaknesses needs to wear back support because the Mantis works best by drawing it towards you. (watch your toes)

    Bookmark   June 7, 2009 at 6:05PM
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I have a 7.5HP rear tine beast for the "heavy hauling" and until recently a 2HP, 2cycle Sears which died after 12 very reliable and fantastic years....:-( No parts available due to age and such. Probably replace with a Mantis as the other small units out there don't impress me at all.

The big beast is used in the spring for initial preparation, tilling in compost which for me is composted horse manure. Occasionally during the year if there's a large plot to be worked up, I'll use it again. Small tiller is used to run between the rows (veggie) and spot till in the wife's flower beds.

If I had to give up one, it would be the beast as it's only used once or twice a year and a smaller machine would do the same only take longer.

I would suggest that after the initial sod and whatever else you're dealing with is taken care of, there's no need for a large machine in a home (veggie) garden. The qualifier of course is that you keep the garden clean and not be finished and let it go to weeds and such requiring major work next spring.

Be well,


    Bookmark   July 5, 2010 at 12:55PM
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dottie_in_charlotte(z7-8 NC)

Ev..your "qualifier" is my nemesis every year around mid July when the blush is off the 'fresh tomato' and the corn stalks have been pulled to make more room for weeds. LOL

    Bookmark   July 19, 2010 at 1:35AM
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I am in the market for a new tiller. I am trying to decide between front and rear tine. I have always used front-tine in the past, but most people seem to recommend rear-tine for a new garden (we just bought this house).

I tried a large Honda rear-tine tiller at my parents house last summer (don't know the model unfortunately), and found it completely useless. The tines just seem to scrape along the top of the soil. In the end I needed to break the entire garden up with a shovel before tilling. Is that normal? OR are other rear-tine makes better?

    Bookmark   February 25, 2011 at 10:58PM
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