Tilling your garden is a tough job. Any gardener will get a workout from pushing and pulling a tiller, because the tines dig into the soil, chew up the dirt, and send the machine bouncing up and down and lurching forward. Fortunately, we found that the latest tiller innovations make the machines easier to use.
FOUR TIMES TWO. Four-cycle gasoline engines have been the standard powerplant on full-size tillers for 10 years. We’re pleased that four-cycle engines are coming into vogue in the lighter-duty cultivator. Today, the majority of gasoline cultivators now have a four-cycle engine rather than a two-cycle engine, which requires you to mix gasoline and oil to run the engine.
We found that eight of the 13 gasoline cultivators that are on the market have a four-cycle engine and start at $300. Three years ago, only four of the 13 gasoline cultivators that were on the market had four-cycle engines. They also started at $300.
Kriss Schrader of online retailer Tillers Direct tells us that companies are “slowly backing away” from making two-cycle cultivators rather than going through the complicated emissions regulations process that California Air Resources Board (CARB) and Environmental Protection Agency require for two-cycle outdoor power equipment.
“Two-cycle engines are tougher and tougher to get past CARB ratings, and manufacturers don’t want to lose out on California,” Schrader says. “Companies just don’t want to deal with the hassle of it. They’d rather stick to four-cycle engines.”
Cultivators that have four-cycle engines typically cost at least $80 more than do cultivators that have two-cycle engines and an equal tilling width and warranty. However, Steve LePera of Mantis Tiller, which makes four-cycle and two-cycle models, says his company expects consumers to gravitate to four-cycle cultivators. “You don’t have to mix oil and gas with [four-cycle models]. Plus, they start a little easier and run a little cleaner,” LePera says. “The long-term trend is moving toward four-cycle due to the ease of operation.”
CHARGE AND GO. Meanwhile, battery-powered cultivators also are more prevalent than ever before. Just two battery-powered cultivators were on the market 3 years ago, and they started at $419. Now, the market has six, and they start at $90. However, experts tell us that battery-powered cultivators have limited usability.
If you plan to use a battery-powered cultivator on grass or dirt that hasn’t been broken, you won’t be happy, Schrader says. “I would be surprised if you got 5–10 minutes [of run time] out of it in that situation.”
Hard-face Tines: Good for Pros
Based on our hands-on evaluations, we found that battery-powered cultivators work best when you want to do some light weeding in already-tilled ground or if you want to break up already-loosened soil. In other words, they’re adequate if you have a small, established garden that has few weeds and narrow space between the rows, says Chuck Obendorf of MTD Products, which sells battery-powered cultivators under two brands.
The GreenWorks G-Max 27062 ($299) has the highest voltage battery (40 volts) of any battery-powered cultivator that’s on the market, and we found that that model has a battery life of up to 40 minutes, compared with other battery-powered cultivators, which have a battery life of up to 20 minutes.
In 2014, GreenWorks introduced a chainsaw, a hedge trimmer, a lawnmower, a leafblower and a snowthrower that each has an 80-volt battery. However, the company won’t say whether it plans to introduce a cultivator that has an 80-volt battery. Such a development would boost battery life to roughly an hour in a cultivator, Schrader estimates.
Experts tell us that more battery-powered cultivators will be introduced in the next 3 years. Mantis doesn’t make a battery-powered cultivator, but LePera tells us that the company is researching improvements in battery technology as it pertains to cultivators.