Tilling soil with rototillers

Consider the rotary tiller, or rototiller: You may need one of these soil-eating machines if you're going to create a large new flowerbed, a production cut-flower garden, or a vegetable garden (or to install a new lawn) — any project too daunting to undertake by hand.

If your property is large or you like to keep busy with such projects and revisions of them, you may want to consider buying a tiller. But for most situations, you're better off renting what you need (check the yellow pages under Equipment Rentals or Rental Services). The only drawback to renting, or borrowing from a neighbor for that matter, is that the tool may not be well-maintained, which slows down the work or may be dangerous. Here's how tillers compare:

1 Full-size tillers: These beasts are for the bigger jobs. They're heavy, and figuring out how to navigate and control them takes some strength and practice. But the powerful spinning tines do a great job of chewing up soil, mixing in compost or other amendments, and spitting everything out to create a fluffy, loose, wonderful planting bed. The tines may be in front, in the middle, or in the rear.

These tillers come in various sizes. For heavy duty jobs like cultivating heavy soil for the first time, the larger tillers are more practical. The larger tillers are really intended for very substantial row crop gardens that are a quarter acre or so. For frequent use, after the initial cultivation, the smaller tillers are usually fine and are much easier to handle.

1 Hand-held mini tillers: These lightweight helpers come either gas-powered (two- or four-cycle engine) or electric (120-volt, much quieter); typically, they weigh 20 pounds or less. Choose an electric mini tiller based on how far from an outlet you'll be. These tool s are suitable for smaller-scale projects and do a fine job of mixing amendments into the soil. Plus, you can control them so you don't go where you don't want to go and don't stray into the root zones of established shrubs or perennials.

oj^NG.' Turning over the soil inevitably brings dormant weed seeds to the surface, where they're only too happy to germinate and start growing. And if you till any weeds, alive or dead, into the ground, you may release and churn up their seeds as well. Your best bet is to try to clear an area of weeds before you do any tilling.

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