Gardening season is upon us here in Camas and Washougal, Washington! A plant’s ability to thrive in a garden is dependent on many factors. Sunlight and water both play a significant role, but there is one element that is arguably the most important to a successful garden: soil.

There’s no better way to get your soil ready for planting than by tilling. By the end of this post, the reader will be fluent in all things tilling and will have the information necessary to establish a healthy, functional garden plot.

What is Tilling?

Tilling is the process by which soil is turned. As the soil is loosened, essential nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorus, are worked into the ground. Turning the soil also eliminates weed roots and insect homes, making it more difficult for weeds and unwanted pests to invade the garden.

We recommend doing this twice a year. The first tilling should be in the spring, usually two weeks before planting. Note: planting immediately after is advised against, as the microorganisms in the soil will be disturbed by the process.

The second tilling should be done in the fall. The purpose of this till is to relieve compaction in the soil, increase oxygen, and improve drainage. We recommend adding amendments to the soil before this till. Compost and organic fertilizer both provide much-needed nutrients to the essential microorganisms in the ground.

Since planting will not generally occur immediately after the fall tilling, it’s okay to be rougher and go deeper with this till. The soil will have ample time to recover.

How to Till

With nearly every practice related to landscape work, there’s an easy, yet more expensive, way to till, and a cheaper, more labor-intensive way to till. For those who don’t have access to rototillers, hand-tilling is the only option.

Hand-tilling is more time consuming, however, if done correctly, it’s just as effective as using a rototiller. A shovel, garden fork, wheelbarrow or large tarp, and a pair of gloves is all that’s needed. The process of hand-tilling is simple:

1. Dig a 12-inch trench in the garden area that needs tilling.

2. Place all dug up soil on a tarp or in a nearby wheelbarrow (don’t throw any away, as this is all going back in).

3. After the trench is 12 inches deep, dig another 12 inches down. This soil isn’t being removed from the ground, but will, instead, be turned over. The further down you dig, the tougher the soil becomes, so keep the garden fork handy.

4. Once the second 12 inches has been turned, spread compost or fertilizer evenly over this layer.

5. Move to the spot directly next to the first trench and begin digging a new 12-inch ditch, placing all dirt into the first trench.

6. Repeat steps 1-5 until the entire garden has been turned and all soil from the tarp or wheelbarrow has been installed into the last hole.

If this method is too physically demanding or time-consuming, there’s always the alternative. Rototilling is a quicker, more expensive method of turning a garden’s soil. The process itself is a simple one; simply lay down the compost or fertilizer and rototill the desired area.

As painless as this process is, there are a couple of mistakes to avoid. Be sure that the soil isn’t too wet before rototilling. As you walk behind the tiller, your footprints will compact the soil forcing valuable oxygen out of the ground. Before tilling make a ball of soil in your hands. It should be moist enough to form a sphere, but dry enough to crumble with little influence.

The top soil will more than likely be hard and compacted. On the first pass, adjust the machine’s tines to their shallowest depth and drive it over the soil slowly. On the second pass, adjust the tines to 8 inches and increase the speed slightly.


Tilling a garden is an extremely beneficial process that provides much needed nutrients to your soil. It’s a method that is not only effective, but easy to implement. If you have any questions regarding the health of your garden or tilling in general, or if you would like some assistance with this service, contact us, fill out a free estimate request form or call us directly at 360-567-6399.