What is tilling?

Man tilling his garden beds

It's possible that many gardeners don't fully appreciate the definition of tilling, despite doing it regularly! To make informed decisions about whether or not to add it to the gardening routine, it's worth knowing what tilling the soil is, along with its pros and cons. In this article, we'll talk about what tilling is, why you should do it, to what depth you should till, and the drawbacks of tilling.

What is Tilling

Tilling is the process of turning soil over, and breaking it up. Normally this is done with a tool such as a tiller or a spade.

Why Should You Till?

  1. Aerating & Drainage

    By breaking the ground and turning it over, this loosens the soil and allows air and water to penetrate more easily, providing better drainage.

  2. To Mix in Organic Material

    When tilling, it's the perfect moment to mix in organic material, such as compost or manure. These provide nutrients to the soil, making it more fertile.

  3. Identify Weeds

    Tilling can also help to control weeds, as it helps to loosen the soil and expose the weed roots to the air. You've then got a ripe opportunity to pluck those bad boys from the soil!

What Depth should You Till?

The depth you want to till depends on why you're doing it, and what you're looking to plant there. Generally 6 to 10 inches is a good recommendation, if you don't know what you should go for.

Disadvantages of Tilling

Tilling is not always beneficial, so you should double check before you get cracking tearing up that earth. The chopping action of a tiller can harm earthworms, which are great for aerating and fertilizing the soil with their digging and castings. Whilst tilling can help you identify weed roots, sometimes dormant weed seeds deep in the ground can be stirred up, leading to further germination and the growth of new weeds. Too much air from tilling can also burn up the humus in the soil, which is a source of nutrients for plants.


Tilling can be great for the health of your soil in the right circumstances, but some times can trip you up. Used sparingly, and in the right situation, it can really be a great help. If you're not using tilling as part of your gardening skills, why not get started!