Can a Tiller Cut Through Roots?

When using your rotary tiller, you will eventually run into some roots – either on purpose, or by pure accident. When this happens, many people who are new to tillers don’t know what to expect.

So, what happens next? Can a tiller cut through roots? 

Tillers can cut through smaller roots without much problem. The maximum size of roots that the machine can cut through depends on the tiller’s size and power, as well as the blades’ size. However, running into overly large roots can stop, or even damage your tiller. 

Of course, there is a bit more to it than that. Knowing what to expect in different situations is important, so keep on reading to find out more. 

What Kind Of Roots Can a Tiller Cut Through?

Whether or not your tiller is able to cut through roots will largely depend on the type of roots you are dealing with. Some of these roots are no match for even the most compact of tillers, while others will prove to be too much for even the strongest machines out there. 

Now, let’s look into the various types of roots in detail.


These are easy to deal with. You could almost say that rotary tillers were designed for this task. Some of the nastier weeds out there have extensive root networks, but they are still soft and thin. 

Your tiller will easily cut through the roots of any weeds you may come across. 

However, keep in mind that there are some caveats to using your tiller to remove weeds – I have recently written an article on this very topic, you can check it out here.

Small Plants

By small plants, I mean things like tomatoes, cucumbers, but also young bushes and trees. Much like weeds, the roots of these plants are no match for a tiller’s blades. 

The only difference is that you don’t want to damage these for obvious reasons – unless your goal is to remove them (I’ll talk about this more later). 

Because of this, I suggest that you avoid tilling areas with plants like these in a wide radius. There really isn’t a good method to tell where the roots are with a 100% certainty, and cutting them off can be a fatal blow to plants like these. 


Bushes that have reached their full size are a different question. Whether or not your tiller can cut through these roots will largely depend on the type of the shrubs and their age. 

Some bushes only spread their roots downwards, almost like an inverse tree. If this is the case, you can use your tiller around them safely, because you are unlikely to run into any of the main roots. 

However, many types of bushes spread their roots in a horizontal fashion, in order to hold themselves in place more firmly. If this is the case, things can get difficult. 

You see, some bushes can grow really strong, almost tree-like roots over time. If you have some of these in your yard, you should be cautions when tilling around them. I’ll explain how to do it safely later in this article. 

Running into roots like these can damage the plant, but also the tiller itself if they are too strong for it to handle. 


Out of all the plants mentioned here, trees will cause the most problems. Depending on the size and age of the tree, they can have massive root networks that are extremely hard, and worst of all, flexible to some extent. 

The roots of trees always spread out horizontally in all directions, to keep the tree in place even in extreme weather conditions. 

This makes it very difficult to use a tiller around them, although not necessarily impossible. 

Although cutting some of the roots of a grown tree is unlikely to cause significant harm to it, large roots can easily cause damage to your tiller. Therefore, you should be very careful when tilling around trees. 

Can I Use a Tiller To Remove Roots From The Ground?

Removing the roots of smaller plants is very easy to do with a tiller – just run them over a few times, then you an use a rake to pull the now unearthed roots from the soil. 

The difficult part is removing the roots of fully-grown bushes and trees. As I explained earlier, some of these can prove to be too much for even the strongest rotary tillers out there. 

The key here is to remove the tree trunk from the ground before attempting to clean up the root network. By doing so, you remove the strongest parts of the roots as well as the trunk that links them together. 

This way, the remaining roots won’t be able to withstand a decent-sized tiller. 

What Size Of Roots Can a Tiller Handle?

This is a tricky question because it mostly depends on the type of plant you are dealing with and the power of your tiller. 

Generally speaking, a tiller can most likely handle roots as thick as your finger or below. 

If the roots are soft and weak, you can probably go a bit beyond that, but I wouldn’t attempt anything thicker than an inch in diameter.

Will Cutting Large Roots Damage My Tiller?

Cutting large roots can damage your rotary tiller, especially if it actually gets stuck while you are trying to cut through. 

For some, it’s hard to imagine such a strong machine getting stuck, but I’ve seen it happen before. 

If the blade fails to cut through a root, it can stop the engine or “jump” the tiller – the former is bad for the engine’s health, while the latter is dangerous for the user. 

If this happens, it’s probably best to look for some other method to remove the roots. 

Sometimes, the tiller can actually cut through the roots but it pushes the engine to its limit to do so. If you consistently see the blades slowing down while cutting through roots, or notice any weird noises or smoke coming from the engine, you should probably give it a rest as these are the signs of the engine overheating (you can read more about this, and how to prevent it from happening here).

How To Till Around Trees And Bushes Safely

This can be very tricky to do, but not impossible. The key is to determine where the roots are so you can avoid them while tilling the soil around the trees or bushes. 

First, you’ll have to determine the area where you can do your tilling safely. To do this, you will have to do some digging. 

Try unearthing some roots starting from the tree’s trunk, and follow them until they are at least 2-3 inches from the surface – the deeper the better. 

Now, measure this distance from the trunk and draw a circle around the trunk using this radius. You can just use a stick to draw a line on the ground. 

Next, set your tiller’s blade into the highest setting available (if it has such a setting) and you can start tilling around the circle. 

Make sure to go slowly, and don’t go overly deep too soon. The further away you are from the circle, the deeper you can go. If you do run into some roots, just adjust your settings accordingly. 

This way, you can use your tiller without damaging your trees and bushes. 

Final Words

As you can see, dealing with roots can be quite a hassle – more so than it may seem at first glance. 

But, by using the proper techniques, you can work around them. 

I hope I was able to help you with this task and see you next time!

Peter Toth

Hi! I'm Peter, the owner of BackyardGadget. Working around the house has always been a big part of my life. I've created this site to share my experience, and to help people choose the right tools for the job. Thank you for stopping by!

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