Forum home Tools and techniques

Small Rotavator

I need some help choosing a small rotavator to break up and level the ground. I've had a double row of huge old congested shrubs removed and the stumps ground out. For now I want to put it down to lawn. I haven't got the physical strength to dig it and level by hand. It totals 80 square metres approx. All suggestions welcome. Thanks in advance.
Photo showing one side only. 


  • Pete.8Pete.8 Billericay, EssexPosts: 9,852
    You'd probably need to dig it over first, then use a rotavator to crumble it to a good tilth.
    I got a small one last year
    I'm pleased with it, but if there are a lot of old roots in the ground you'll need to deal with them before rotavating.

    Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.
    Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  • steephillsteephill Posts: 2,617
    You need a bit of strength to use even a small rotavator, it isn't like pushing a hoover across a carpet. ( Not trying to be sexist here but some of the advertising would imply it is that easy) It will vibrate and bounce as it hits any stones or roots unless you have already dug over by hand as suggested.
  • cathiebrown13cathiebrown13 TintinhullPosts: 5
    Good point Steephill, Yes I appreciate that, I have used massive ones in the past so I know what they are like. The borders have been gone over with a stump grinder already which has mashed them up a fair bit.
  • ColinAColinA Posts: 352
    If there is a health or age issue here you may be best getting some one with a machine to do the job as has already been said they can be very hard work on rough or hard ground
  • cathiebrown13cathiebrown13 TintinhullPosts: 5
    Thanks ColinA, not sure that is allowed right now!  I think the ground is well worked enough to do in stages before I can throw the grass seed down. Thanks for your concern. 

  • NeoNewLawnNeoNewLawn Posts: 82
    edited March 2020
    Hi Cathie!
    I too have been on a mad lawn project for the last few weeks. 

    My ‘garden’ looked like this:

    This is how it looks today:

    I am a bit of a geek, a prolific reader and researcher. How to break up the ground, remove all the stones and then leave it sufficiently flat and smooth to plant a lawn has been (quite honestly) a mission for me. 

    It has been mentioned here but having been through the process myself in just the last few days here are my honest thoughts:
    1) If you can afford to hire a decent piece of equipment it’s worth considering. 
    I have been on a mission to do this all on my own and at a really low budget and I have been determined to do it myself and not spend money. In hindsight, a friend with a bobcat or similar digger would have been a godsend. Just to break the back of the ground and tear up the rocks and roots. 
    2) Rotavators seem to be a bit of a unicorn purchase. People buy them then hang onto them for life or they use them once and sell them on. It’s worth keeping an eye on Gumtree/eBay/Preloved or your local classifieds. I have no idea how well the later model electric ones work but with a 400w drive my garden would have laughed at them. I just cannot see them being strong enough if your ground is hard. By all means a well tended lot is a different question. There they are probably great. 

    Personally I cannot praise the small Mantis 2-stroke I bought enough. In fact I think I have developed a bit of a crush (pun!) on it, its that good a bit of kit. 
    I got it as ‘spares or repair’ on Gumtree for £40. It included the scarifying tynes which strip off the solid grassy/rooty/rubbish top layer exposing the dirt. I simply ordered a non OEM carburettor from Amazon for £12 (yes £12!) and it runs first time every time since. 100% reliability. The effectiveness of the rotavator is directly proportional to how clear of debris your ground is. Roots and rocks and dead stuff, the struggle is real. 
    3) The bad news is a ‘small’ (but powerful) unit like mine takes an extraordinary level of strength to hold onto and control. As it grinds and crushes and tears you become the counterweight to the energy being cranked into the ground. As has been said, as you encounter rocks and roots it REALLY starts to bounce and hop. I have had it bounce up to maybe hip height if it hits a really solid object. You have to grip it and drag it through the ground and it left my forearms cramped up. My partner who is no wimp refuses to use it, she just says its too hard. 
    4) Thats not to say that going slowly and being patient (creeping along) you won't be able to get through it with one of the smaller models. 
    I have just had a quick look online and the first result that came up was for this petrol hire rotavator that looks like it will do the job in a day. For ~£39 you get a proper bit of kit. This is not an endorsement of this company, as I said its the first result that came up. You can probably to better with a little Googling. 
    5) Depth of dig. My ground was VERY uneven, yours looks pretty level. In my case where on the shallow section I wanted to dig down to 10cm, it meant on the high sections I was grinding my way through 40cm of dirt. It took 4+ hours to do an area you suggest of 80 squares. 

    Then you are left with so much rock and debris (happy to go into it in more detail if you wish!) I have been posting a thread which you can read here and see what I have been up to, maybe a few days head of you. :)

     As others have said, there is some value in breaking up the surface first (Bobcat!) or just going all in with a high power hire unit. 

    If you asked me 2 weeks ago what I would do differently, I would still have bought the Mantis, its that good, but I would probably just have hired a decent, powerful unit for a day and done it that way. 

    Let me know please if you need more detail, I am trying to put myself in your headspace (where I was not long ago!) and I promise you we can do this on a budget if you are patient, but for a ~£40 spend in a day its something I would genuinely consider. 

    If money is not a barrier, the more horse power and cc's and torques you can buy, the better. I have a 6.5hp 164cc 4-tyne beast I got 'for free' (I just had to collect) that I have ordered spares from China for and will be fixing that up. I am not a mechanic, don't get me wrong, I just enjoy the challenge and the finished product. Sadly that beast will not be ready for you for several weeks. :)
  • GemmaJFGemmaJF Posts: 2,286
    edited March 2020
    I have a Honda GC 135. It can be hard work to break new ground with it (will buck and kick a bit), but it can do it. Only maintenance it ever needed (left outside all year) is belt replacement a couple of times. I've had it for about 15 years now. So I would definitely recommend as a smaller but capable machine that is really reliable. Probably be a very safe second hand buy if one came up.
  • GemmaJFGemmaJF Posts: 2,286
    Just to correct, the model is Honda FG314, the engine is a GC 135
  • mandyroberts99mandyroberts99 BedfordshirePosts: 228
    The rotavator I'm using at the moment is my OH!!  I think from your comments it was the right decision. I have a fairly small patch that needs serious renovation before planting (about 20ftx12ft). My research concluded that a small rotavator wouldn't do the job, a large one would be impossible for me at 5ft2" to handle and its a slight slope so wouldn't be that suitable. He is nearly there, its all dug over and he is now digging in compost for me. I did secondary digging after he had done the first turn and even that was incredibly hard as the soil is clay and rooty.
  • KT53KT53 GloucestershirePosts: 7,520
    Pete.8 said:
    You'd probably need to dig it over first, then use a rotavator to crumble it to a good tilth.
    I got a small one last year
    I'm pleased with it, but if there are a lot of old roots in the ground you'll need to deal with them before rotavating.

    The small electric ones don't have the weight or the power to break up hard ground.  They will simply bounce across the top.  They are fine for breaking up the winter crust on ground which has already been dug over, but not for much else.  I have a petrol Mantis tiller and even that would struggle.
    There doesn't seem much point in buying a machine if it's only going to be used to break up that one area.  Either hire one, or contact a local gardener (they are still allowed to work) and get them in to do it.
Sign In or Register to comment.