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Top 4 Best Rear Tine Tillers of 2018

Rear tine tillers are crucial for tilling large gardens and tough soil. We think the Southland SRTT196E Rear Tine Tiller knocks this task out of the park with a 10-inch tine depth and adjustable depth controls for customization and efficiency. No matter which tiller is right for you, make sure it has the right tine depth—deeper depths are perfect for first-time tills, while shallower depths like that of the luxury workhorse Troy-Bilt Pony ES are ideal for existing plots and greater efficiency.

Southland SRTT196E
High-end value at a mid-range price

Southland SRTT196E

Our pick

Best rear tine tillers reviews 2018

Best-in-class
Troy-Bilt Pony ES

Troy-Bilt Pony ES Rotating Rear Tine Tiller

A durable, ultra-powerful tiller

200 pounds of tiller may be too much for some, but the Troy-Bilt’s high-quality build and easy maneuverability are well worth the elbow grease.

Review

If you’re a serious gardener, landscaper, or farmer, making an investment in the Troy-Bilt Pony ES is a no-brainer. Troy-Bilt is a brand that builds to last, and the Pony rear tine tiller is no exception. With a high quality, quick-start electric motor and a unique tine design created to both stir and break soil with ease, the Pony gets to work like a seasoned tilling veteran right out of the box.

It’s easy to start, easy to maneuver, and easy to control: the simple but perfectly placed pistol grip handles allow for maximum control with minimal effort.

The transmission is made primarily of iron and bronze, so it’s nearly unmatched in durability and life expectancy. It’s also got some stellar safety features, including a front bumper to protect your engine and a well-designed tine guard to protect you while you work.

With both forward and reverse tilling functions and a 16-inch (41-cm) tilling width, getting the job done quickly and correctly has never been easier. This thoughtfully designed machine has everything you need and a lot of what you want at a great price point for the quality, making it a sure-in for the high-end pick.

Pros

  • The 250cc engine provides max power.
  • Forward and reverse tilling creates greater versatility.
  • The high-quality metal transmission and solid engine increase the lifespan.
  • 13-inch (33 cm) agricultural tires improve control and balance.

Cons

  • The 7-inch (18-cm) tilling depth isn’t ideal for breaking never tilled soil.
  • At 200+ lbs, it may be a bit hefty for navigating tougher terrain.
Best value
Southland SRTT196E

Southland SRTT196E Rear Tine Tiller

High-end value at a mid-range price

This tiller is easy to control and highly customizable, from tilling depth to gear direction. It’s the best choice for any project at a mid-range price point.

Review

Rear tine tillers are no small investment, but the Southland SRTT196E has many of the bells and whistles you want and all of the must-haves you need—at a mid-range price point. And it delivers it all under a reliable name with parts built to last.

It’s easy to use for a tine tiller, with intuitive controls and assembly that’s simple enough for beginners. The Southland also has a reputation for starting up on the first pull—no wrestling just to get it going.

It’s got a higher-end tilling width at 18 inches (45 cm) and a 10-inch (25-cm) tilling depth for near-maximum efficiency. Better yet, it’s capable of destroying thick roots and rocky terrain as if it were working on a decades-old garden bed, so it’s one of the least exhausting rear tine tillers on the market to use.

Its maneuverability is also second to none with its wide tires and agricultural-quality treads. While its width would make smaller, decorative gardens difficult or impossible to till, this is a small price to pay for an otherwise powerful and versatile machine. Affordability, high-quality parts, and a brand that stands behind its products: you’d be hard-pressed to find a better deal anywhere else.

Pros

  • The self-sharpening tines save time and energy.
  • Forward and reverse gears increase maneuverability and productivity.
  • Pistol grip handles decrease effort and increase control.
  • The engine packs 196ccs for power rivaling higher-end machines.
  • It has a depth regulator for customized tilling depths.

Cons

  • It weighs in at 176 pounds, which some users may find difficult to control.
Best budget
Earthquake 20015

Earthquake 20015 Versa Front Tine Tiller Cultivator

A compact, budget-friendly alternative

This light, maneuverable front-tine tiller has a nearly unmatched tilling depth but doesn't offer the power of rear tine tillers.

Review

Bottom-of-the-barrel prices in a rear tine tiller are hard to find (without sacrificing quality). But the Earthquake 20015 Versa front tine tiller is a strong contender with many comparable features to rear tine tillers at an excellent price point. For the budget buyer who doesn’t mind sacrificing a few cc’s of power (the Versa comes in at 99), this tiller is an excellent and reliable pick.

The Earthquake has an impressive 11-inch (28-cm) tilling depth suitable for both new beds and established gardens. It also has a tilling width that can be adjusted from 11 to 21 inches(28 to 53 cm) to accommodate decorative gardens or large farm rows.

It’s also the lightest model featured here at 85 pounds, which will make it far easier to handle for many gardeners. The wheels leave a little bit to the imagination with their thin design, but this may only pose problems on rocky or uneven terrain.

The Earthquake also has pistol grip handles, so what the wheels take away in control the handles serve right back. These make it easier to maneuver this light and limber machine over tougher terrain.

All in all, the Earthquake is a great-quality alternative at an excellent price point for those willing to sacrifice the rear tine design.

Pros

  • It has an impressive 11-inch (28-cm) tilling depth despite its small size.
  • The tilling width is adjustable to fit any space.
  • The handles, weight, and low-to-the ground design make it easy to maneuver.
  • It has a comparatively strong engine for a front tine tiller.

Cons

  • The wheels are thin and smoother than AG tires, so some control is sacrificed.
  • By nature, the machine isn’t as powerful as its rear tine competitors.

2. What’s a rear tine tiller?

We know that tillers loosen and turn soil for planting. But what is a rear tine tiller? Simply put, it is a tiller whose tines are behind the engine.

What makes rear tine tillers superior

Front tine tillers are useful for already loosened soil or smaller beds. They also happen to be significantly cheaper. But for heavier duty projects, such as work on densely packed or never-tilled earth or large plots, rear tine tillers are worth the extra investment.

Unique rear tine tiller features

Unlike small front tine tillers, rear tine tillers:

  • Are larger and can cover more land in one pass
  • Are heavier than other tillers
  • Are more powerful
  • Tend to dig deeper into the soil
  • Usually have both forward and backward settings to loosen difficult soil
  • Have wheels that are driven by the engine, so they work best in straight lines

3. How to use a rear tine tiller

When you invest in a rear tine tiller, you’ll need to know how to use it safely. They’re fairly straightforward, but there are a few tips and tricks to make your experience go smoother.

  1. Remove debris first: particularly if it’s your first time tilling the land, removing large plants, roots, rocks, and other debris will make your tilling go much more smoothly. It’ll also keep hard objects from damaging the tiller’s tines or jamming them up with roots and plants.
  2. Set the tilling depth: your tilling depth should be set to 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) for existing beds or up to 10 inches (25 cm) for new beds or difficult soil. This is so the roots have room to expand unhindered.
    Note: some tillers don’t have adjustable depths, so picking one with the right depth for your needs will be crucial.
  3. Set the tiller to “drive” (or “forward”) and move in a straight line
  4. For difficult soil, do the entire bed again in a crosshatch pattern (one pass longways and another one across)

Of course, not all rear tine tillers are created equal. There are a number of common comparisons and little-known features to consider so you get the perfect product for your plot.

4. Tiller power

Unlike many engine-powered tools, tillers are more likely to display their “power” in engine size than horsepower. If you’re tilling a plot that’s never been turned or your soil is rich in clay and other heavy substances, look for an engine with 200cc (cubic centimeters) of engine size or more.

If you’re tilling a plot that you use every year, you can save a few dollars by choosing an engine between 100 and 180cc.

5. Torque matters too

Torque, or the amount of force needed to rotate something (in this case, the tines) is another way to measure power. Higher torque means higher pressure exerted; for tougher or never-tilled soil, look for a torque between 8 and 10 lb/ft.

6. Tilling width

Rear tine tillers can run as wide as 20 inches (50 cm) or as narrow as 10 inches (25 cm). If you’re investing in a rear tine tiller, you’ve probably got a lot of turning to do.

A wider tilling width (closer to 20 inches/50 cm) is better for wide, uniform spaces (think rectangular garden beds).

A narrower tilling width (closer to 10 inches/25 cm) is the best choice for decorative, curved, or irregularly shaped gardens. You can’t turn rear tine tillers mid-row to fit smaller spaces, so measuring beforehand is important.

7. Tine depth

For most gardens and average soil, a depth of 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) is sufficient. If your soil has been tilled recently, you won’t need more than 6 inches (15 cm).

However, if you live in an area with heavy soil or you’re making a brand-new plot, spend a few extra dollars for a 10-inch (25 cm) tiller—your plants will thank you.

8. Tiller rotation style

Most rear tine tillers have either one or two rotation directions:

  • Forward rotation—when the tines rotate in the same direction as the wheels, forward—helps break up weeds and loosen the top layer of soil to prepare the ground for planting.
  • Counter-rotation—when the tines rotate in the opposite direction as the wheels, or backward—mixes up the soil more thoroughly and is more effective on extremely compact ground. This option is great for beds that have never been tilled.

If you plan to use your tiller in more than one place or for a variety of applications, splurge on a model with both forward and counter rotating tines.

9. Tiller tires

Of course, being able to operate your rear tine tiller smoothly can also make or break your gardening experience. That’s why it’s important to look for durable, thick, all-terrain tires.

Size

  • Tires should be at least 8 inches (20 cm) for smaller tillers and smooth ground.
  • Look for tires that are 12 inches (30 cm) or larger if you’re working with a big machine or uneven ground.

Tread

Tread also makes a huge difference in the maneuverability of your rear tine tiller. Look for thick, all-terrain or agricultural-style treads like you’d see on a tractor. This style allows you to maneuver the tiller across a variety of terrains, including grassy, muddy, rocky, and uneven ground.

If you have a smooth or already-turned garden bed, you can save a few dollars by going with lighter-duty tires.

10. Tiller handles make or break ease of movement

Tires aside, it’s also important to be able to push your new machine without a ton of elbow grease. There are two primary handle styles, each with their pros and cons:

Plow/bike-style handles:

These have bike-style grips that look more like a bar running the width of the machine.

  • They allow for one-handed operation.
  • Plow-style handles also let you stand to the side of the tiller.

Pistol grip handles:

These are a two-handed-only style, but:

  • They provide the freedom to adjust the amount of force as needed.
  • They also provide far superior control and power over tough terrain.

11. Consider tiller weight

Most rear tine tillers will weigh between 150 and 200 pounds. That sounds excessive, but keep in mind that more weight does have benefits:

  • Heavier machines bounce less on uneven, rocky terrain.
  • They’re easier to maneuver in a straight line.

However, if strength or endurance are concerns and you have smoother ground (or a garden bed that’s already been tilled), you can safely opt for a lighter machine. Just keep in mind that machines that are very light (closer to 100 pounds) may not be strong enough to work through extremely heavy or never-tilled soil.

12. Other good-to-have features

Rear tine tillers range from the most basic of necessities to garden glamorous. The more features you need, the more money you’ll spend; however, the more features you have, the safer, easier, and more versatile you’ll be able to be as you branch out in your tilling projects.

  • Drag bars: These improve balance, keep the tilling depth consistent, manage speed, and dig into the soil behind the tines to keep the machine from lunging forward. They also help the tines dig deeper into the soil.
  • Counterweights: These help equalize the weight of the machine, which improves balance and makes your tiller easier to maneuver.
  • Self-sharpening tines: Tines will naturally get dull over time as they turn. Self-sharpening tines remove a cumbersome task from your garden maintenance so you don’t have to remove and sharpen them manually.
  • Depth regulator lever or selector: This allows you to manually adjust the tilling depth for greater versatility.
  • Safety shields: Having front, rear, and/or side shields around your tines improves safety so you can tine in peace without worrying about wayward rocks going in the wrong direction.
  • Easy or quick start: This feature saves you the trouble of yanking endlessly to get the engine to catch like in the older days of yard tools. One turn, push, or pull on the start mechanism is all you need to start the day’s work.

13. Buying tips

From the most basic push and till models to fully decked out grandiosities of the garden, rear tine tillers offer a variety of features. Use this list to determine the must-haves and great-to-grow-with features in budget picks, mid-range machines, and top-of-the-line tine tillers.

Must-haves in budget picks

  • Insist on at least 8-inch (20 cm) tires for sufficient control and grip.
  • Shoot for at least a 6-inch (15 cm) tine depth.
  • Choose a machine with a tilling width of 10 inches (25 cm) or more: This allows enough width to till larger spaces efficiently.
  • Go for AG (agricultural) tires. These are essential for grip and control.

Good-to-have mid-range tiller features

  • Spend a few extra dollars for tires that are 10 inches (25 cm) or larger.
  • Splurge for 14-16 inches (35-40 cm) of tilling width to make quicker work of large spaces.
  • A higher-end machine with depth regulation will expand your project range.

Great to have features in a top-of-the-line rear tine tiller

  • Go for tires that are 12 inches (30 cm) or larger; they’ll have the most versatility and steerability.
  • It’s worth the investment in 18 to 20 inches (45 to 50 cm) of tilling width.
  • Self-sharpening tines will save you a time-consuming maintenance task.
  • For maximum control, counterweights and drag bars transform your tilling experience.
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