Your Guide to the Different Types of Tillage

Managing your soil is essential if you want to reap the benefits of crop production and plant growth, which is why tilling is an integral part of any farmer and gardener’s life. However, tillage methods have gone through many changes throughout the years. 

Farmers have implemented numerous tillage techniques, each depending on different factors. Each tillage type works to either promote growth or amend soil problems.

For instance, some lands may be too wet, thereby requiring soil aeration. Others may have dealt with strongly compact soil that has hindered their plant production. Each cases therefore needs a different type of tillage.

So, what is tillage, and what are the different types of tillage? Let’s find out!

What is Tillage?

Simply put, tillage is the automated process of soil manipulation. So, why does one till soil at all? First, farmers use tillage operations to alter the soil’s integrity, such as its temperature, water absorption, and penetration level. This way, it becomes optimized for crop production.

It doesn’t stop there – tillage can also be used to restrict weed growth, flatten the soil, and trigger pesticides, among other functions.

This ancient process has been used for centuries and has been subject to numerous technological advancements. Here are the different types of tillage used now.

Primary Tillage

As the name suggests, primary tillage refers to the first tilling you do after harvest. It functions by opening and breaking apart dense soil. It slices through, blends, and fragments the ground, so you can lay down the seedbed. 

The primary tillage process can also work on damp soil to permit plowing and create friction. In addition, it promotes soil aeration and cuts up and combines previous crop residue from past harvests into its soil mixture. 

Types of Primary Tillage

You can do primary tillage in different ways. Let’s explore each of the methods used. 

Deep Tillage

This type of primary tillage is used if you’re not looking to use a tiller and don’t want to interfere with the soil’s surface. It’s done to penetrate the ground at an above-average depth, which can range from 6-12 inches deep. 

The primary purpose of deep tillage is to refine deeper soil without damaging the plants on the top. It also aids in stirring and embedding soil deposits that came from water and wind erosion or, in some cases, flood overwash. 


During crop production, some soil is susceptible to forming a hardpan layer beneath the uppermost layer. Hard pans may appear for many reasons, such as deep pressure over the soil, compacting deeper soil. 

Subsoiling is the right solution to alleviate hardpans. In the top layer of the soil, the agriculture experts make a slight incision. Afterward, the subsoiler is used to break apart and pulverize the hardpans. 

Year-round Tillage

Implementing the tilling process throughout the year is called year-round tillage. This year-round churning of the land is essential to avoid weed growth.

Year-round tillage takes place until the crop sowing procedure. After that, the field is continuously plowed about and broken apart to help keep weeds from reappearing.

Secondary Tillage

After the heavy-duty primary tillage operation is complete, secondary tillage follows. This process is comparably much lighter and shallower than its predecessor. 

The primary purposes of secondary tillage include breaking down clod size, involving puddling (in rainier settings) and fertilizers, as well as managing weed germination. 

Secondary tilling work is commonly done twice. However, more can be needed depending on the conditions, like if weeds persistently appear or clods aren’t sufficiently reduced even after planking them. 

The Layout of the Seedbed

After the two main tillage processes are carried out, it’s time to sow and plant the seeds in the prepped land. Again, you should aim to use flat seedbeds in areas where water is sufficiently available and little to no drainage issues are found.

A flat seedbed can be prepped for plants like pearl millet, castor, and groundnut. However, since these crops aren’t sown with land treatment, rainier seasons can cause some real damage. This is due to a lack of a proper drainage system.

Therefore, a broad bed and furrow (BBF) system is used. BBF manages soil moisture levels by mimicking a drainage channel to divert the rainwater from the soil.

Seedbeds can also be laid out into furrows, with legumes like beans and peas planted in the raised terrain. 

If you live in a in dryer climate, another layout you can use is the sunken seedbed. It’s typically used to preserve as much water as possible. Plants like maize and sugarcane are customarily used in the open furrow soil.

Upland Tillage

This type of tillage can only be carried out in areas where aerobic soil conditions are applicable. In other words, the soil needs to be enriched with oxygen and be highly aerated. 

Controlling the water absorption levels for upland tillage is essential. The seedbed can be compromised if the soil gets too dry. 

The clod-prone environment will make the surface harder to till. In addition, soil sealing – which means creating an impenetrable layer on the ground – can become a significant issue if the soil becomes too wet. 

Therefore, maintaining the right amount of soil moisture is key to laying out a functioning seedbed. 

Spring vs. Fall Tillage

Since these types of tillage are seasonal, their use varies according to the soil’s temperature and moisture conditions.

Spring Tillage

The spring season may bring more moisture than wanted. Unfortunately, the high moisture levels aren’t what farmers are anticipating. Tilling under these conditions might create clods that could become compressed and be harder to fragment into a workable seedbed.

Since spring tillage is challenging to work on, it’s usually best to wait until the warmer weather dries up the soil. This is why it’s advisable to apply herbicides and fertilizers and incorporate crop residue left from the fall rather than begin the tillage process.

Fall Tillage

Agriculture experts would recommend tillage in the fall rather than the spring. This is because fall tillage doesn’t carry as much moisture as spring tillage does. This, in turn, eases the tilling process. 

However, it would be best if you didn’t wait until temperatures drop. Colder weather might solidify your soil due to the ice surrounding it. And, breaking apart icy soil might not yield great results. On that account, tilling in the early fall – likely September or October – is the way to go. 

Final Thoughts 

Understanding each type of tillage will give you the knowledge to use the most suitable option. Each type depends on various factors, such as the climate and moisture levels where you live.

We hope you benefited from this article and wish you well in your future gardening endeavors!