A Better Garden Tiller


I like the versatility of my BCS two-wheel tractor with all the different implements it can operate, but if I were shopping for a dedicated garden tiller, I would certainly get the new vertical tine model from Troy-Bilt.

Properly known as the “Bronco Axis Vertical Tine Garden Tiller,”  this is the best-designed machine of its type I have encountered.  Its double blades rotate horizontally like giant egg beaters; start the machine up and the blades bore down into the ground then, as the tiller’s wheels rotate, gradually work their way forward to mix the soil.

Troy-Bilt 3Unlike a conventional tiller, this machine doesn’t hop and skip its way over the beds.   It moves so smoothly that you really can control it with one hand, walking alongside rather than over the trail of freshly tilled soil.    It also seemed more efficient in that it would till to the desired depth in a single pass, rather than requiring repeated passes like most conventionally constructed tillers.

A handy feature is the tine-reverse – if the machine should pick up a rock or root and the tines jam, you pull a lever, and the tines rotate in reverse to spit out the obstruction.  Only once when I was using this tiller did it find a rock just the right size and shape to jam so tightly that the reverse wouldn’t operate and I had to knock the rock loose manually.

The only real short-coming I discovered was that this machine is difficult to turn around in the field.  On a firm surface, I could lift the handlebars far enough to raise the tines off the ground and swivel the machine on its wheels; in a garden bed where the wheels sank into the soil, it was sometimes impossible to raise the rear high enough for ground clearance and turning then became a struggle.

Aside from this one difficulty, however, I was very favorably impressed by this machine.  The construction seemed solid with heavy-gauge metal throughout and Troy-Bilt includes a lifetime warranty of the transmission.

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Thomas Christopher

My father was a compulsive tree planter, but it was my mother who taught me the finer points of gardening.

Her homeschooling was followed by two years in the New York Botanical Garden’s School of Professional Horticulture, and then ten years as horticulturist at an Olmsted Brothers designed estate on the Hudson River Palisades.

I’ve worked as a horticultural journalist for 35 years, contributing to publications ranging from Martha Stewart Living to the Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society and The New York Times.  My most recent book is Nature Into Art: The Gardens of Wave Hill, which is a tour of the lessons to be learned from that great public garden.  I’m currently focusing on my new podcast (at thomaschristophergardens.com) which features weekly interviews with leaders of environmentally-informed gardening.

My special enthusiasms include sustainable gardening, especially sustainable lawns;  heirloom chicken breeds; and recreating vintage New England hard ciders.


Contact Tom by email


  1. I don’t till regularly, but there are times when I want to mix organic matter into the soil of my vegetable garden. I garden in central New England where we don’t have earthworms (that’s a good thing, ecologically speaking), so I can’t depend on them to do that for me. I’ve also used no-till methods in raised beds and found them effective — I’m not dogmatic about it, either way. A tiller is a tool that can be useful but which can also be misused or over used. I certainly wouldn’t till if my garden was in an erosion prone spot near a waterway, which I think is the concern with the Chesapeake.

  2. Thanks for the recommendation! I don’t really till my garden too because as far as I concern, the soil is pretty alright. But sometimes there are a couple of friends who ask me about some worthy tillers. I could never suggest any to them. Well, not until now.

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