How to Use a Rotavator: a Beginner’s Guide (FAQ Included)

You want to get a rotavator for your gardening activities, but maybe you are a bit scared about being able to use it properly. As you will see in this article, it’s very easy to learn how to use a rotavator. Once you’ll get the hang of it, you will probably ask yourself how could you go for so long without one of those.

These are expensive tools, that’s true. But if you can get one, I think you should for the following reasons. First, you’ll get a much finer soil than what you would achieve using handheld tools. Second, you will get the job done way quicker, and your back is going to thank you too.

Before getting into the steps you need to follow to properly use a cultivator, I’m gonna talk briefly about what these tools are and what you can use them for. Finally, I will answer some common questions about them in the FAQ section.

What is a Rotavator and What do You Use it For?

how to use a rotavator
“Rotavating” by Bryn Pinzgauer is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Rotavators are heavy-duty, powerful tools used for gardening activities. They are also called “cultivators”, even if this is a generic term that refers to tillers also. It can either be electric or petrol powered. The latter is usually much more powerful and expensive. Good thing is that you can easily hire one if you are not a professional and you are not planning on using it frequently (it’s like that you will use it once a year to prepare your soil).

The downside of petrol models is that they require maintenance, while electric models are always good to go. Some models come with a depth gauge to set the depth of each pass.

Rotavators are mainly used for preparing the seedbed. They use their rotating blades to stir and pulverize the soil and aerate it, getting it reading for planting seeds or flower bulbs. Breaking up the soil also improves its drainage. That’s the main function of a cultivator.

These tools are also used for weed control. After the seeds have begun growing, you can rotavate the weed between the strips to foster the growth of your plants. This won’t stop the weeds from growing back, though. Another thing you can use a rotavator for is leveling your lawn before laying turf.

How to Use a Rotavator: A Step by Step Guide

  1. The first thing you need to do is removing any weed (you should remove the turf if you are working on a lawn). You don’t want to rotavate through weeds: they will make the process much more difficult because they can get caught into the rotavator’s blades. Moreover, they will get spread all over the land and they will grow back in a larger area. You should do this operation a couple of days before rotavating to allow the soil to dry up.
  2. Check the soil moisture. You don’t want it to be too wet because it will form clods when rotavated. Dig some soil up and pick up some clods. If you can break them with your hand, then the soil is dry enough to be rotavated. If that’s not the case, wait a couple of days and try again.
  3. Make sure to operate safely. Take a look at the following paragraph for some safety tips.
  4. If you have a petrol rotavator, check the oil level and make sure to have plenty of fuel.
  5. If your model has a depth gauge, set how deep you want the cultivator to go into the soil. It’s better to go step by step, setting it deeper while you go. You should move down bit by bit, 2 or 3 inches at a time.
  6. Turn the machine on using the switch or pulling the cord; then use the clutch to move forward and make the blades spinning. Keep your feet away from the rear of the machine.
  7. Move along the plot in strips. Make sure to overlap them a bit to make sure that you don’t miss any spots. After a few passes, start working in the cross direction.
  8. Do multiple passes until you reach the desired quality in the soil.

Safety Tips

  • Wear safety gear when using a cultivator. I’m talking about gloves, glasses, earplugs, and most importantly a heavy pair of boots (better if steel-toe capped). Rotavators frequently throw rocks back while operating, and you don’t want one of those to hit you. Keep your feet away from the blades of the machine.
  • Check the soil before rotavating to remove big rocks and other possible obstacles.
  • Do the maintenance on your rotavator. Check fluid levels and the state of the blades. Change them if needed.
  • Don’t let the tool running unattended. You don’t want your children or animals to come close to those blades while rotating at full speed.
  • You will need to hold onto the tool tightly when using it. Don’t press down too much, but let the rotavator bounce over the obstacles. It’s safer for you and it will prevent blade damage. It will also be less tiring for you.

After all this talking, let’s see a rotavator in action:

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions

Can a rotavator cut through roots?

It really comes down to the size of those roots. If they are sapling’s roots, a rotavator will go through them easily. If we are talking about bigger and deeper roots, you need to dig them out before rotovating. There’s a higher chance of damaging your cultivator if you don’t do that.

What is the difference between a rotavator and a cultivator?

Three possible names can be used for these machines: rotavator, cultivator, and tiller. “Cultivator” is a generic term that can refer to both rotavators and tillers. So the question should really be about the difference between these two. Tillers are smaller and less powerful, and they come without wheels. The rotating blades make it move forward. On the other hand, rotavators are more powerful and heavy-duty tools, and they are equipped with wheels.

Can I use a rotavator on grass?

Yes, you can do that. But the results will be worse than what you would have got if you removed it. You will spread the weeds over your land and the cultivator might have a hard time going through them. If we are talking about a lawn, then you surely need to remove the turf first.

Does rotavating kill worms?

There’s a chance that rotavating will kill some of them. But you also need to consider that the rotavator’s blades are quite spread out, so it’s unlikely that a worm will end right under it.

Can I rotavate in the rain?

Yes, you can rotavate in the rain if the soil is still dry enough. The problem is that freshly plowed soil will adsorb water real fast. So it’s probably better to wait for the rain to stop and then wait some more for the soil to dry up a bit before finishing the job.

Can I use a rotavator on stony ground?

You can, but be careful about your rotavator throwing rocks back. Make sure to operate safely. A good thing you could do is digging the ground a bit before rotavating to remove the bigger stones.

Should I use a rotavator on my allotment?

Yes, you should. Just remove the weeds first to avoid spreading them all over the plot. If the soil is too hard and your cultivator can’t break it, dig it up a bit first. Try to break the surface to facilitate the blades’ job.

Final Thoughts

After reading this article you should have a clearer idea of how to use a cultivator. The most important thing is operating safely, and letting the tool do its job without applying too much force on it. It will require several passes to reach the appropriate quality of the soil, just stick with it. Remember to prepare the soil properly before rotavating it.

If you keep these few things in mind, your job will be much easier.

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