A mini cultivator, also called a mini tiller, is a work-saving machine designed for home gardens. Tillers can do the same work as a hoe or a garden fork, like turning soil at the beginning or end of the season, weeding, and digging in spent annual plants, fertilizer, and soil amendments.
A mini cultivator is a smaller version of a full-sized tiller. Full-sized tillers are usually gas-powered, with engines up to 14 horsepower. They can dig up to 11 inches (28cm) deep with cutting swathes up to three feet (0.9 meters) wide. Mini cultivators can be gas or electric. Their maximum tilling depth is usually closer to six inches (15.2 cm) with swathes ranging from four to 11 inches (10-28cm) across, depending on the model.
Mini tillers are best suited to cultivating soft, loose soil that has been worked in the past. They usually are not powerful enough to dig into native soil or hardpan. Large rocks can break the tines or cause the machine to bounce, and large clumps of weeds can get tangled in the tines. A mini cultivator is especially useful in a garden space that is smaller than 500 square feet (46.5 square meters).
Home gardeners might choose a mini cultivator because it is very lightweight and easy to maneuver. Most models weight less than 20 pounds (9 kilograms), making them easy to lift to get behind behind shrubs or in the middle of plantings. They can also get into narrow paths between plantings, and break into the soil without disturbing most roots. Mini tillers can also prepare soil for seeding and pull up small weeds.
Mini tillers have an engine similar to a lawn mower. The engine can be two- or four-stroke. Four-stroke engines are more expensive, but have fewer emissions and don't require the user to mix oil and gasoline. Electric tillers are generally started with a push button. They are less powerful than gas-powered tillers, but they are usually lighter and quieter.
Some tiller models have wheels, but a mini cultivator's forward motion is propelled by the tilling tines. The wheels are just there for balance and pushing the machine when it's not in use. There is still some work for a gardener using a mini tiller, who must pull back on the machine to keep it from running forward too quickly, while pushing down in it to get the tines to the desired depth.