How Deep Should You Till Your Garden? 5 Facts

We know how much you love your garden and how you like to see your crops flourish. And as a keen gardener, you probably know how crucial it is to prepare your soil correctly before planting anything. So, the big question is, how deep should you till your garden? 

Generally, you should till your garden to a depth of 6-10 inches (15.2-25.4 cm); deep-rooted plants need to till about 16 inches (40.6 cm) deep. How deep you till depends on your garden’s age and the crops you’ll plant. You have to till to deeper depths for new gardens and deep-rooted plants. 

In this article, we will look at tilling in detail. We’ll discuss the factors determining how deep you should till your garden, the best tools to use to till your garden, and how to till your garden.

Things To Know Before You Start Tilling

Tilling offers multiple advantages for your intended harvest, but your tilling depth requirements vary. These different tilling depths depend on the particular root systems of your intended crops

If you till too shallow, some deep-rooted crops such as artichokes or pumpkins will fail to flourish, and shallow-rooted plants—such as beets and carrots—require minimal tillage.  

Let us look at some of these tillage requirements in more detail. 

1. Different Crops Require Different Depths

Some crops need shallow tilling, while others need deep tilling, depending on the depth of their roots. Crops with shallow roots require about 6-10 inches (15.2-25.4 cm) of tilling.  While medium-rooted crops require 18″ (45.72cm) to 24″ (60.96cm), deep-rooted crops may need up to 24 inches (60.96 cm) of tilling. 

Examples of shallow-rooted crops include the following:

  • Alliums, such as garlic and onions
  • Kale 
  • Arugula
  • Broccoli 
  • Lettuce

Medium-rooted crops include the following:

  • Peas
  • Carrots,
  • Eggplants
  • Turnips

Deep-rooted crops requiring the deepest tillage include the following:

  • Pumpkins
  • Winter squash
  • Melons 
  • Grapes
  • Asparagus 

Deep rooting vegetables require much deeper tilling, as their roots need much more space to thrive, as they require more water and nutrients to feed the plant, unlike shallow rooting vegetables.

2. How Deep You Till Will Be Determined by the Type of Soil

The soil type also determines the depth of tilling. If the soil is compact, like clay soil, you will need deep tilling compared to less compact soils like loam soils. Moreover, when you have a new garden that no one has ever tilled, you will need to dig deeper to break the compact soils and get the best aeration.

According to Iowa State University Extension, the soil’s texture also influences the soil’s depth of tillage and the moisture content of the ground. Fine soil textures, like loam soil, have a lower moisture content and require shallow tilling, while coarse-textured clay soil has a high moisture content. 

The timing of the tilling will determine the moisture content of the soil. You should till your garden in the spring when the cold and wet season is over.

You can check the moisture content of your soil by taking a sample into your hands; if the soil crumbles between your fingers, it is ready for tilling. You must give it more time to dry if it remains in a lump.

If you want to learn more about how often you need to till your garden—check out my article: How Often Should a Garden Be Tilled?

3. Younger Gardens Will Need More Tilling

When tilling your garden, you must keep in mind your garden’s age. A first-year garden will require deeper tilling than a used garden because the soil is mostly very compact.

Before tilling a virgin garden, remove all the branches, rocks, and debris from the garden to avoid damage to your tools.

You can also use double digging for first-year gardens; it is also applicable where deep topsoil is required. Double digging improves the aeration of the soil and helps the plants access nutrients deep in the soil.

4. Proper Preparation Improves Soil Aeration

The primary purpose of tilling your garden is to help in soil aeration. Proper soil aeration means enough air in the soil, which allows the plants to thrive.

Without proper aeration, the soil will be too compact for the roots to penetrate, and the plants will be prone to pests and diseases.

For first-time gardens, it is essential first to get rid of all the rocks, branches, and debris in the garden before tilling. The University of California recommends 2 inches of compost (5.08 cm) to improve poor soils like sand and clay for better drainage and soil aeration.  

Soil aeration is imperative for the growth of plants. Some of the benefits of soil aeration include:

  • Allowing deeper penetration of the roots.
  • It improves soil permeability.
  • Alleviating soil compaction and boosting the growth of new roots.
  • It improves drainage and reduces the occurrence of fungal diseases in plants.
  • It improves air circulation between the atmosphere and the soil.

5. Some Tools to Help Achieve Your Desired Depth

You can use many tools for tilling; however, some are ideal for adjusting tilling depths to achieve your desired height. The use and size of the garden can also determine the tools you use for tilling.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the tools you can use for tilling.

Hand Tilling Implements to Use at Home

You don’t need a tractor to till your back garden—in small spaces, you can easily DIY the process using tools available in most gardening and hardware stores. However, be prepared to put in some elbow grease to create your perfect garden bed!

These items include the following:

  • A spade: Many of us have an old spade handy in the shed, and they will do it as a tilling implement in a pinch.
  • A hoe: This tool is relatively cost-effective but somewhat labor-intensive for tilling.
  • Twist hand tiller: These handy DIY tillers have spikes and a hand footplate with curved spikes to twist the soil for tilling.
  • Broadfork or grelinette: These implements can allow you to manually till your soil in broader areas than the above. The grelinette has two pole handles connecting to a row of steel tines on a crossbar. You hold the two grip poles while driving the tool into the ground by putting your foot on the crossbar.

Motorized Options for Your Garden

Motorized rototillers are like lawn mowers on steroids, and smaller rototillers can take the labor out of preparing your small to medium gardens for spring crops. You can find highly portable and lightweight rototillers that can still efficiently till your soil.

I recommend tilling machines with adjustable tilling depth and width.

How to Till Your Garden

Tilling your garden is relatively easy. However, you should ensure that you till your garden the right way to get maximum yields. Otherwise, you may not get the garden’s full potential.

Here are the basic steps on how to till your garden for planting:

Clear the Area Intended for Tilling

While you’re tilling the area, ensure there are no rocks or debris in your intended tilling area by clearing all potential obstacles.

Weed the Area Vigorously

You can inadvertently spread the seeds of your existing weeds into the soil and create a crop of inedibles you never intended! A neat trick is to lay out a layer of cardboard over the intended area for two months, smothering the weeds. 

Ensure Your Soil Is Moist

Your soil should be moist but not wet, as excess moisture can cause the soil particles to clump. The soil should hold its shape when pressed into a ball but should never be soggy. 

Mark Out Your Tilling Area Clearly

Once you start tilling, you don’t want your rows to start meandering—use string rows. You can attach the rows to a fence or use an anchor such as garden staples to secure your rows. 

Compost the Area

To give your crops the best start, lay out an inch or two (2.54-5.08 cm) of compost evenly on your intended site.

Work Methodically

Be sure you don’t rush the process—ensure you penetrate your soil properly and evenly. 

Avoid Do-Overs

Once you have tilled your rows, resist the urge to fix up uneven areas. Over-tilling can create issues such as soil compaction. 

Bottom Line

How deep you till your garden depends on the crop you are planting. Till deep for deep-rooted crops and shallow for shallow-rooted crops. Tilling has excellent benefits to the soil and the crops. However, ensure you use the right tilling tools and till at the right time to avoid damaging your soil.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the founder of and its lead content writer. He created the website in 2022 as a resource for horticulture lovers and beginners alike, compiling all the gardening tips he discovered over the years. Alex has a passion for caring for plants, turning backyards into feel-good places, and sharing his knowledge with the rest of the world.

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