Why Is Soil Turned Over During Tilling?

As you watch a farmer plow his field or a gardener going over their yard with a rotary tiller, have you ever wondered why tillers turn over the soil and what benefit it has?

Turning over soil during tilling is the main method of improving a garden, field, or plot of land with this type of agricultural tool. It provides numerous advantages such as better drainage and incorporating amendments among others.

In this article, I’m going to look into how this process can directly contribute to the health and productivity of your garden. I’ll explore exactly what the benefits are and also find out some potential disadvantages of turning the soil when tilling.

Benefits Of Turning Over Soil

The action of turning over the soil during tilling offers numerous advantages that can make a real difference to the overall health and productivity of your garden. 

These include the following benefits:

Improving Soil Structure: When the soil is turned over repeatedly during tilling it breaks down into a fine tilth that is perfect for planting. 

Improved Aeration and Oxygenation: By digging up the soil we can increase oxygen availability to the plant roots, promoting better root development and overall plant health.

Enhanced Water Absorption and Drainage: Tilling helps improve the way water is soaked up and drained away, preventing waterlogging and root rot, plus ensuring plants benefit more from irrigation.

Weed Control and Pest Management: By disturbing weeds and the soil where pests are living, we can more effectively control these nuisances in the garden. Although, using a tiller to remove weeds is not necessarily your best option in all cases – I wrote about this in more detail in this article

Improving Nutrient Distribution and Soil Fertility: Turning soil and breaking it up helps to evenly distribute nutrients. It also accelerates the decomposition of organic matter, and the release of valuable organic compounds to aid plant growth. 

Mixing Compost and Amendments: Tilling helps mix in compost and other soil amendments deep down into the earth. You can learn more about the exact process here

It’s no wonder that tilling has been a common practice for hundreds of years with all those benefits so let’s look at them in more detail.

Improving The Soil Structure

By turning over the soil, you break up compacted layers and create a looser, more crumbly texture. This improved structure makes it easier for plant roots to penetrate the soil, accessing nutrients and water more efficiently.

Most types of soil can benefit from an improved structure but especially those based on sand and clay. If the land you are working on is not entirely flat, you can even use your tiller to level it

Improved Aeration And Oxygenation

When you turn over the soil during tilling, you’re helping to create multiple pathways for air to circulate and ensure that the roots receive the oxygen they need to grow strong and healthy.

Just like humans that need air to breathe plants do too, as oxygen plays a crucial role in root development and overall plant health, enabling them to absorb nutrients efficiently. 

This results in stronger, more vigorous plants with better yields for crops, and more flowers for the garden.

Enhanced Water Absorption And Drainage

Tilling has another important benefit—it improves the way the ground absorbs water and improves drainage. By turning over the soil, the tiller breaks up the hard lumps and creates spaces for water to penetrate. 

This in turn allows rainwater or irrigation to soak into the ground more easily, reaching the plant roots where it’s needed most and allowing excess water to quickly drain away.

Improved drainage is essential to plant health otherwise, if the soil becomes waterlogged, it can lead to root rot and disease. 

Weed Control And Pest Management

Many gardeners also rely on cultivating and tilling for weed control as exposing soil under the top layer disturbs the habitat of weeds and pests.

Weeds are notorious for stealing nutrients, water, and sunlight from our plants, but their roots are often shallow. By uprooting them during tilling, you disrupt their growth and reduce their ability to compete with whatever we’re trying to grow.

Additionally, pests and insects often find shelter in the top layer of soil, so by turning it over you expose them to the elements and disrupt their breeding pattern. This helps keep their populations in check, minimizing the damage they can cause to our garden.

Nutrient Distribution And Soil Fertility

Tilling breaks up and mixes organic matter, such as leaves, plant residues, and compost, into the soil.  

This soil turning really helps promote faster decomposition by exposing the organic matter to oxygen, moisture, and microorganisms. 

As this matter decomposes, it releases essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These compounds nourish plants, support healthy root development, and contribute to overall soil fertility. 

It’s nature’s way of recycling natural waste.

In addition, organic matter acts as a sponge, holding onto water and slowly releasing it to the plants, ensuring they have a steady supply of moisture.

Mixing Compost And Amendments

By turning the soil over several times, we can ensure that the compost and soil amendments are well-mixed and distributed throughout the planting area. 

Tilling helps break up any nutrient-rich pockets and spreads them more evenly, preventing imbalances that could otherwise hinder plant growth. 

This way, plants have access to the consistent supply of essential elements they need for healthy development.

Potential Drawbacks Of Turning Soil Over

Despite the many advantages of tilling and the way it churns up the soil, there are some drawbacks that are worth mentioning.

Soil Erosion And Compaction Risks

Excessive tilling can lead to erosion by disrupting the soil’s natural structure, making it more prone to being carried away by wind or water.

Disruption Of Soil Structure And Beneficial Organisms

Over-tilling can actually negatively impact soil structure, compacting it and reducing its ability to hold water and air. This can hinder plant growth and nutrient absorption.

Minimizing unnecessary tilling, using organic mulches, and avoiding harsh chemicals can help preserve the beneficial organisms that contribute to soil fertility.


When soil is turned over during tilling, you’re improving your garden in many ways including better soil structure, enhanced drainage and more effective mixing of nutrients and compost.

It’s because of these numerous benefits that rotary tillers are a very popular means of preparing soil for planting crops, vegetables and flower beds.

Remember though, it’s wise to avoid over-tilling your garden to prevent doing more harm than good.

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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