How to Till a Garden

Tiling seems like a regular gardening chore. But surprisingly, many people keep doing it wrong. You don’t see the results of the wrong tiling technique and timing right after a tilling session. However, those issues come to fore when it’s time for flowers to bloom or to harvest a small batch of fruits and vegetables. If you are not sure how to till a garden the right way, keep reading this article.

Here, we’ll break down this process into simple steps so that even if it is your first day of gardening, you can ace the tiling job. We’ll also discuss some additional issues associated with this essential gardening job.

Sun Joe TJ604E 16-Inch 13.5 AMP Electric Garden Tiller/Cultivator,Black

What You’ll Need

Even though a top-quality tiller is the only thing that you need to till a garden, these are some things that you will find handy, especially if you are new to the soil preparation.

  • Tiller
  • Spade
  • Soil amendments
  • Wood stakes and string
  • Goggles and gloves (optional)

1. Mark the Garden

If you’re tilling for the first time or want to keep it to a particular section of the garden, mark the area.  You can use wooden stakes and strings for marking the garden plot that needs tilling. If you’ve good control on the tiller, you can also use powdered limestone to mark the tilling border.

Sprouts in a well-tilled vegetable garden

2. Remove Grass and Visible Weed

This step is only applicable if you’re using a small, manual tiller. If you own a gas-powered or electric tiller, you can jump to the next step. You need to remove all the visible weeds and their roots from the garden bed before tiling it with hands.

Similarly, you’ve to peel up the grass if you want to get the best tilling results. Large and motor-powered tillers can easily break up the sods to leave behind the maximum amount of topsoil. However, small tillers are unable to pass through sods. In that case, you need to use a spade for grass peeling.

You can notice that manual tilling requires a lot of physical toiling.

3. Soil Test

It is a crucial step before starting the tiller and many people forget to carry that out. Keep in mind that tillers are not supposed to work in wet soil no matter how powerful their engine/motor is. Therefore, it is crucial to test the soil beforehand. Also, visual inspection is not enough, especially if you’re not a seasoned gardener. Testing soil to ensure if it’s suitable for tilling is pretty simple.

  • Take a handful of soil and squeeze it in your fist.
  • If the soil crumbles, you are all set to move the tiller on the garden plot.
  • It the soil forms a clump, let it dry and delay the tilling for a day or two.

4. Position and Move the Tiller

Once you’re sure that soil is ready for tilling, take out your tiller and position it on one end of the garden. Now, move it on imaginary lanes across the length of the garden. Go from one end to the other and then start from the adjacent lane. Keep maneuvering the tiller the same way until you cover the entire garden plot.

While moving the tiller on the garden bed, consider these things.

  • Move it with a soft hand while making sure it doesn’t bump off.
  • Maneuver every nook and corner of the garden in proportion. This means to maneuver the tiller on the entire garden for the same number of times.
  • Only go for the second round if you see visible soil clumps in the garden bed.

5. Post-Tilling Steps

For many people garden tilling stops as the tiller stops. But again, this is not the right way to till. Here, we are going to discuss a couple of post-tilling steps that will make this job more yielding and fulfilling.

  • Shut off the tiller and clean its tines (blades/spikes). Remove all the roots, weeds, and soil that clamp on them. Not doing this after every tilling session eventually leaves the tines bland and cut down the operating life of your tiller.
  • Identify and pick up all the large chunks of rocks, soil, or trash that are unearthed after the first round of tilling. Getting rid of those large solid masses is good for your garden bed as well for the tiller.
  • Since the primary purpose of tilling is to make the soil, add amendments to the soil in line with its quality.
  • Position the tiller once again in the same setting and till the garden to ensure the amendment material works into the soil.

The steps discussed above cover all that you need to know about how to till a garden.  However, good tilling is not just about the right technique. You also need to know how it’s different from weeding and cultivating and when it’s the best time to till. In the following discussion, we’ll cover all those crucial things about garden tilling.

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What’s the Difference between Tilling, Plowing, Weeding, and Cultivating?

It is essential to know the difference between these seemingly same gardening jobs.

  • Tilling: It entails mixing and turning over the soil. Tilling is usually done 8-10 inches deep in the garden bed.
  • Plowing: It goes deeper than tilling and is usually needed to flip over the soil bed, especially when you are transforming a field into a garden or preparing a large garden from scratch.
  • Cultivating: It is a broader term that covers several aspects of gardening. For many, it means preparing the topsoil for sowing by removing weeds and adding fertilizers to it.
  • Weeding: It is the process where you get rid of all the unnecessary vegetation growth from your garden. If you are using a powerful tiller and doing extensive tilling, it also takes care of the weeds.
Earthwise TC70001 11-Inch 8.5-Amp Corded Electric Tiller/Cultivator

When Is the Best Time to Till?

This is the question every newbie gardener should be asking. Keep in mind that you can’t till a garden in any season and time even if it requires tilling. Experts agree that the best time to till a garden is the spring season for two particular reasons.

First, it is the time when garden soil has already been thawed and dried after snowfall and rain spells of winter. Second, spring offers the right warm temperature (around 60 Fahrenheit) in most regions where soil remains in its most crumbled non-compact form.


Instance When You Don’t Need to Till Your Garden

There are some instances where experts strictly recommend people to not till their gardens.

  • Don’t till your garden in wet weather/monsoon. All your tilling efforts will go in vain with one spell of a downpour.
  • Don’t till your garden if it has extensive weed growth. Tilling will expose the dormant weed seeds to the fertile layer of soil that will only exacerbate the problem. In such cases, you need to weed your garden first and then use a tiller on it.
  • If your garden soil is already overworked, refrain from tilling it. This will create a new issue called hardpan that entails the formation of a non-permeable compact layer of soil underneath extremely soft and crumbly soil.
Garden Weasel Cultivator – Break Up Soil, Detachable Tines, Long Handle, 54.5” Long

Our Final Thoughts

A well-executed tilling session prevents soil compaction and removes weeds from the garden bed to prepare it for the best harvest. We hope that this how to till a garden guide helps you in working your garden soil to the right degree.

Happy Gardening!

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