A cultivator is any of several types of farm implement used for secondary tillage. One sense of the name refers to frames with teeth (also called shanks) that pierce the soil as they are dragged through it linearly. Another sense refers to machines that use rotary motion of disks or teeth to accomplish a similar result. The rotary tiller is a principal example.
Cultivators stir and pulverize the soil, either before planting (to aerate the soil and prepare a smooth, loose seedbed) or after the crop has begun growing (to kill weeds—controlled disturbance of the topsoil close to the crop plants kills the surrounding weeds by uprooting them, burying their leaves to disrupt their photosynthesis, or a combination of both). Unlike a harrow, which disturbs the entire surface of the soil, cultivators are designed to disturb the soil in careful patterns, sparing the crop plants but disrupting the weeds.
Cultivators of the toothed type are often similar in form to chisel plows, but their goals are different. Cultivator teeth work near the surface, usually for weed control, whereas chisel plow shanks work deep beneath the surface, breaking up hardpan. Consequently, cultivating also takes much less power per shank than does chisel plowing.
Small toothed cultivators pushed or pulled by a single person are used as garden tools for small-scale gardening, such as for the household's own use or for small market gardens. Similarly sized rotary tillers combine the functions of harrow and cultivator into one multipurpose machine.
Cultivators are usually either self-propelled or drawn as an attachment behind either a two-wheel tractor or four-wheel tractor. For two-wheel tractors they are usually rigidly fixed and powered via couplings to the tractors' transmission. For four-wheel tractors they are usually attached by means of a three-point hitch and driven by a power take-off (PTO). Drawbar hookup is also still commonly used worldwide. Draft-animal power is sometimes still used today, being somewhat common in developing nations although rare in more industrialized economies.
The main function of the field cultivator is to prepare a proper seedbed for the crop to be planted into, to bury crop residue in the soil (helping to warm the soil before planting), to control weeds, and to mix and incorporate the soil to ensure the growing crop has enough water and nutrients to grow well during the .