How to prepare for using a garden tiller

Always follow these 11 safety tips before using a garden tiller to ensure you don’t damage yourself, your family, your garden and your tiller.

When is the best time to use a garden tiller?

The best times of the year to use a garden tiller are Spring and Autumn, avoid attempting to use a tiller if the ground is frozen. Tillers should not be used after rainfall as the soil will simply clump, if soil crumbles under pressure in your hand then this is ideal for tilling. If the soil is too tough it may be worth watering the area, then allowing it to dry for a few days before you plan to till. The best time of day to operate is when there will be sufficient light to see where you are tilling.

Garden tiller preparation checklist

A tiller is a large heavyweight piece of garden machinery capable of injury, here are 11 things to check to ensure safe usage and prevent damage to your tiller and garden prior to using it.

Sufficient light

Preparing the soil and operating a tiller need to happen in adequate light to see the area and any obstacles that you might encounter to ensure safe usage. Operating heavy duty machinery that spins blades near feet on an uneven area of ground in limited visibility could result in an accident.

Check for debris

Examine the surface and remove any rocks, stones, branches, or other solid objects which might break the rotating tiller blades, fly out into the air or cause the engine to stall.

Check for obstructions

Be aware of any permanent obstructions underground such as tree roots or sunken slabs, if these obstructions cannot be removed then plan to till around these to avoid damage. If you are using an electric tiller check that the power cable on the tiller will reach the entire area without getting tangled, if not then an extension cable no longer than 100 yards can be safely used to increase the total length of the cable.

Dry soil

The soil itself needs to be free of water and frost, ideally when you squeeze the soil in your hand it will crumble away rather than compress into clumps. Soil which is particularly tough and has a thick clay consistency may need watering then leaving to dry out for a few days.

Remove weeds

Tall and thick weeds should be cut at the base of the stem using a strimmer then removed to prevent the tines being clogged up or reseeding with fresh weeds; the remaining weed roots will be pulled out whilst tilling.

Protect your eyes

We always recommend wearing safety glasses during operation to prevent injury from flying debris. There might be debris hidden under the surface which could be launched in the air at high speed by the rotating tiller blades.

Protect your feet

During operation there will be a set of strong sharp metal blades on the base of a heavy shaking machine rotating next to your feet, therefore we highly recommend a pair of thick safety boots with a strong grip. Operating heavy duty equipment whilst trying to stand on a freshly dug slippery, uneven surface could result in losing your footing, so always protect your feet in the event of an accident. Although offering good grip, the thin material used in rubber boots will offer little protection against the sharp heavy blades used in tillers.

Protect your hands

The sweaty palms you’ll get from grabbing the handlebar of a heavy tiller for extended periods of time might cause you to slip and lose control of the tiller, so wearing padded gardening gloves with grips will provide your hands with more stability and an extra layer of protection.

Protect others

Keep others away from the area that you will be operating, especially children and pets. Check under areas of vegetation for wildlife and also be considerate to neighbours before using a loud gardening tool.

Always read the instructions

Make sure you are familiar with the operation of the tiller and ensure that you wear any other safety gear specified by the manufacturer. The specific instructions supplied by the tiller manufacturer should always supersede the general guidelines on this page.

Check for utilities

Power or broadband might have been buried close to the surface. Heavy duty electrical cabling is typically shielded safely deeper underground however cabling for powering ponds and garden lights might have been buried only inches below the surface. If the area you are tilling sits directly between a building and a street broadband cabinet make sure the broadband cable isn’t buried where you will be tilling as these are typically buried a few inches below ground using plastic shielding that won’t survive the metal blades of a tiller.


  • motherearthnews.comA Simple Guide to Using a Tiller: Why? When? How? – If you’re planning to set up a garden with a surface bigger than 300 square meters, a tiller will save you time and energy after a little practice. 20th July 2020.