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Preparing Garden Beds For Planting Success – Avoid The Tilling Mistake!

When it comes to preparing garden beds for planting success, you might be surprised to find out a rototiller is the last thing you should ever use!

For many gardeners, tilling the garden is the first chore of spring.

To rototilling fanatics, there is just something so invigorating about firing up that engine and walking in the soil.

preparing garden beds for planting

Maybe it is the sight of the tines ripping through the earth below. Or perhaps the smell of fresh earth as it turns over to face the world.

And of course, the wonderful finished sight of a large patch of pulverized soil waiting to be planted.

Sounds pretty amazing, right? Unfortunately, it’s not.

In fact, all of those “wonderful things” described above are actually some of the most detrimental tasks that can be performed when it comes to preparing garden beds for planting success.

preparing garden beds for planting
Every time the soil is flipped, whether by tilling or hand, it makes for more work down the road for the gardener.

Here are 5 huge reasons why tilling causes more harm than good. And, why a no-till garden in the way to go! See : How To Create Simple, Low-Maintenance No-Till Garden

Preparing Garden Beds For Planting Success – 5 Reasons Why Not To Use A Rototiller

#1 Tilling Creates Major Weed Problems

Want less weeds? Then stop rototilling.

Rototillers cause more weeds than they ever come close to eliminating.

Remember that freshly tilled spring garden waiting to be planted above? It actually already was planted.

preparing garden beds for planting
Tilling replants the weed seeds that have blown on top of the soil. It also can destroy soil structure.

With thousands of weed seeds tilled that were laying dormant on top of the soil.

Every time a tiller runs through a garden row, the churning tines re-plant weed seeds. It is a cycle that only gets worse the more it is performed.

#2 Tilling Creates The Problem Of Bare Soil

When it comes to preparing beds for planting, leaving the soil bare causes a whole slew of issues that go beyond leaving an opening for weed seeds to find a home.

Exposed, barren soil is primed and ready for erosion.

preparing garden beds for planting success
All of that freshly tilled bare soil is an open invitation to weeds and erosion.

Heavy rains leach vital nutrients from bare soil with ease. And even slight winds can carry the top 1/8 to 1/4 inch of exposed garden soil away as well.

If that isn’t enough, bare soil dries out quickly. And when it does, it leaves plants thirsty in a hurry.

Nicely tilled rows between plants might look “well-kept”, but in reality, they really lead to more weeds, and a loss of critical topsoil and water.

#3 Tilling Destroys Soil Structure

Healthy soil is all about structure.

Great soil is filled with billions of helpful bacteria, worms and microorganisms. And, it should also contain all types of organic matter in various stages of decay.

All of the above play a huge role in bringing and supplying nutrients to your plants.


preparing garden beds for planting
Good soil is teeming with life, with air pockets, channels and more. Tilling can easily destroy all of that.

The little bits and pieces of organic matter and organisms work together to allow water, air and nutrients to be absorbed by roots.

Unfortunately, tilling the soil destroys that entire symbiotic process.

As soil is tilled over and over, the all-important soil structure is compromised.

In addition, the active life in the soil (worms and organisms) are disrupted and exposed.

#4 Soil Compaction – Stunting Plant

Every time you walk near the plants in your garden, you compress the soil.

And when that soil is pulverized and loose, it compacts even easier.

Compacted soil around the roots causes big problems for plants. It makes it harder for water and air to get through – resulting in under performing plants.

preparing garden beds for planting
Constant foot traffic around plants can lead to soil compaction.

Poor structure also makes it difficult for the soil to retain moisture –  also a critical factor in a plant’s growth and success.   

And last – whether you have a rear tine tiller, front tine tiller – you still have to walk behind it or beside it – compacting even more of the very soil you are trying to break up.

#5 Tilling Can Delay Garden Season

If the four reasons above aren’t enough to keep from tilling the garden, here is one final reason to avoid the tiller when preparing garden beds for planting: waiting for the soil to dry out!

How many times have you heard someone say “I couldn’t get my tiller in the soil until late Spring because it was so wet.”

With a no-till approach, your soil structure drains better and can be worked sooner. It also leads to earlier harvest times because the plants can go in sooner.

preparing garden beds for planting
Tilling wet soil can all but destroy soil. The thick clumps become rock-like when they finally dry out, making planting difficult.

Beyond that, tilling at the wrong time creates serious additional damage to the soil structure.

If it’s too wet, it results in clumpy and muddy soil. Too dry, and the rototiller destroys the little soil structure remaining.

Both issues make it harder for the soil to hold in moisture and nutrients.

The result? The need for more watering and fertilizers for the soil to make up for the lack of naturally available nutrients.

It becomes a vicious cycle that causes more work for the gardener.

The Answer To Preparing Garden Beds For Planting Successfully

So what is the best solution for preparing garden beds for planting?

It all starts with using mulch in place of the tiller to stop weeds. And using cover crops every fall to keep your garden covered and rejuvenated. See : How To Use Mulch In The Garden

preparing garden beds for planting
Gardening Made Simple – Raised Row Gardening!

So stop working harder, and start gardening smarter. And – have less weeds, bigger harvests, and way more fun!

For a complete guide to low-maintenance no-till gardening, check out our comprehensive Raised Row Gardening book.

It takes you through the entire process of simple gardening in full color. Your garden will never be the same!

Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary.

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