Tilling is the process of preparing soil for planting. If you are planting a lawn from scratch, turning part of your lawn into a garden, or reseeding bare spots, you will need to till it. Good and thorough tilling is very important for good lawn growth, or in fact growth of anything you plant. The soil quality is also a big factor, so often your tilling will also involve adding topsoil, compost, or fertilizer.
Let’s take a look at some of the different lawn situations and see how you would go about tilling in each of them.

Situation 1: starting a lawn from scratch

In this situation you will need to till the lawn before planting your grass seed. There are two ways to go with the tilling – doing it by hand or doing it with Rototiller. Either way you’ll want to go down about 6 inches. By hand, use a shovel and simply dig and turn over the dirt to a 6 inch depth all across the area you want to plant the grass in. You can even use a measuring stick placed vertically upright in the ground to make sure you’re reaching a 6 inch depth. Make sure that chunks of dirt are broken up. You can use the end of the shovel or go back with a metal rake or hoe after you’ve finished turning the dirt and chop it up.

If you elect to go with a Rototiller, your job will be significantly quicker and easier. If you’ve never used one of these power tools, have someone (even if it’s the shop personnel) show you how to use one. The way they work is by spinning blades that churn up the ground when they make contact with it. Usually you can set the rough depth these blades dig down to beforehand. The machine self propels as it digs rather than rolling on wheels, so it’s a bit more of a bumpy ride than a lawn mower. Just go over the whole area where you want to plant grass with this machine. If it seems to need more tilling, you can go back over it a second or third time. When you’re done the earth should be relatively free of chunks. You can also hit it with a metal rake, hoe, or other tool to loosen it still more if desired.
After this you’re ready to mix in your planting soil (top soil), compost, or fertilizer and plant your grass seed.

Situation 2: Making a garden plot in your lawn area.

If you are going to turn a section of your lawn into a garden you’ll also need to till the plot. The difference here is that first you’ll need to cut the grass in the area you’re planning to use into sod and take it out. Sod is already grown grass that is removed along with the dirt it’s grown in. It is often sold this way at landscaping supply stores. Usually it comes in square sections of around 1ft x 1ft. It is easiest to move this way. So if you are going to take your grass out in some kind of orderly fashion, you need to first cut it into sod and then load it into a wheel barrow and cart it away.
A power sod cutter is strongly recommended for this.

It speeds things up considerably. Without it you simply have to cut the grass into sections with a square shovel and then get underneath the section with the shovel and lift it out. This is quite time consuming. A power sod cutter is a monster of a machine that cuts your lawn into chunks of sod in one swipe as you push it along. Then all you have to do is go back and gather up the sod sections. A power sod cutter is an even bumpier ride than the tiller, and you need to get briefed on how to use it safely, so again, get instruction. They can be rented quite inexpensively, and unless you’re going to be doing a lot of sod cutting it wouldn’t make much sense to buy one.

After you’ve removed all the grass, you’ll have a dirt area that needs to be tilled. Till it in the same manner as described in the situation 1. Depending on what plants you’re going to plant you may use some different composts or soils, but that’s a topic for another article.

Situation 3 – filling in patches in a lawn

If you’re going to be reseeding dead areas of a lawn, these areas should be tilled as well before putting the seed down. The problem is there is already a certain amount of dead or patchy grass there. You best bet here is to cut these areas into patchy sod and just take them out, similar to situation 2. This will leave you with a nice dirt area that it is easy to till with a shovel. Just till them in the same manner as the two situations above, add your soil and composts, and reseed.

The main thing with tilling is to get to the right depth and to crush the dirt up as evenly as possible. This is harder with clayish soils, and easier with sand or loamy ones, but regardless do the best you can to get the soil reasonably well pulverized. A competent tilling job, combined with the right composts and top soils, is half the battle toward growing a nice lawn or garden.

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