Mini-tillers can tackle big jobs Garden: The lightweight machinesare easy to use and have attachments that will dethatch, aerate and edge the lawn.

August 30, 1998|By Marianne Auerweck | Marianne Auerweck,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Ardent backyard gardeners can eliminate some of the backbreaking work from their favorite pastime with the help of a mini-tiller.

These lightweight machines are easily portable, small enough to work in tight spaces, yet powerful enough to get the job done. With optional attachments, they perform several tasks that make them useful throughout the gardening season.

The Mantis tiller, a 20-pound machine usually sold with a free edging attachment, is the most widely known of the mini-tillers. Optional attachments convert the Mantis into a lawn dethatcher, aerator, planter/furrower, crevice cleaner or hedge trimmer.

Three years ago, Troy-Bilt entered the market with its tiller-edger and optional lawn maintenance attachments.

New this year is the Honda Harmony FG100, the only mini-tiller with a four-cycle engine that eliminates the need for pre-mixing gasoline and oil.

Tilling tines are standard, but digging tines, a border edger, lawn aerator and dethatcher are available as options.

Which machine is best? The fact is, they all perform well, and are comparably priced at about $300. Still, there are differences in design, power, weight and options that should be considered before making a choice.

The Mantis, the lightest of the mini-tillers, has a 0.9 horsepower two-cycle Echo engine with a two-year warranty. Its patented tines, which till up to 10 inches deep and 10 inches wide, have a lifetime replacement warranty against breakage.

The Mantis was introduced in 1978 for commercial use, but landscapers were wary of its purported capabilities, and initial sales were lackluster. Its popularity soared when it was offered to backyard gardeners. More than 650,000 have been sold worldwide.

Mantis tillers can be purchased directly from the factory, or from one of several dealers in the area. For details, call 800-366-6268.

The Troy-Bilt Tiller/Edger features a Tecumseh 2-horsepower, 2-cycle engine, and weighs 31 pounds. Tilling width adjusts from five to nine inches, with a maximum depth of eight inches. Handle height is adjustable, and the machine comes with standard transport wheels, a nice touch considering its heft. A carrying handle positioned over the engine adds to its portability.

The Troy-Bilt also is the only tiller to offer height-adjustable, vibration-absorbing loop handlebars that fold for easy storage and trunk transport. Its competitors offer pistol grip handlebars.

Troy-Bilt offers a three-year warranty. Call 800-828-5500.

The clear advantage of the Honda FG100 is its 1.5 horsepower, 4-cycle engine, designed to meet EPA emissions standards. The engine is quieter and more fuel-efficient than its 2-cycle counterparts.

Though its maximum tine speed, 162 rpm, is slower than its competitors, Honda officials say its engine has three times the torque of an equivalent 2-cycle engine. And torque, the ability to sustain the workload when the tines are buried in the soil, is what counts most.

The Honda weighs in at 26.4 pounds, and comes with standard transport wheels, height-adjustable folding handlebars and a nicely balanced carrying handle over the engine. It tills up to 10 inches deep, and nine inches wide.

Slightly pricier than other mini-tillers, it has a suggested retail price of $329, but it pays to compare authorized dealers for a price break. The optional border edger, standard on the Mantis and Troy-Bilt, can add $40 to the cost.

The greatest challenge is finding an authorized Honda dealer that has the new machines in stock. Honda acknowledges supply problems caused by demand for its mini engine.

"We had problems getting enough engines," said Honda spokesman Joel Borowski. "This engine was introduced on our string trimmers in Europe and Australia last summer, and in the U.S. last fall. ... The demand was greater than we anticipated."

To locate Honda Power Equipment dealers, call 800-426-7701.

Pub Date: 8/30/98

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