Key Differences Between Plowing and Cultivating in Farming

Farmers utilize a range of soil preparation techniques to create optimal conditions for their crops. Two of the most common practices are plowing and cultivating.

Though they both involve working the soil, plowing and cultivating actually serve very different purposes. Understanding the distinctions between these two processes is important for effective farm management.

In this article, we will compare and contrast plowing and cultivating, looking at their timing, depth, equipment needs, and overall goals.

Whether you’re an experienced farmer or just learning about agriculture, the key differences between plowing and cultivating are important to grasp.

A clearer picture of when and why these practices are used will help guide wise decision making for preparing fields and nurturing crops.

What is Plowing?

Plowing is the process of turning over the topsoil on a farm field. The plow cuts into the soil, lifting up the lower layers and turning them over on top.

This brings fresh nutrients to the surface while burying weed seeds and plant matter from previous crops.

Plowing is generally done after the harvest is complete. It removes old crop residues and weeds so the field is clean for planting the next crop.

The exposure to air and light will also help break down the buried plant matter faster.

Deep plowing that completely inverts the topsoil is common when preparing fields for root vegetables like potatoes, beets, and carrots.

The deep plowing results in loose, deep soil ideal for these crops to expand in.

Plowing requires heavy equipment like tractors and moldboard plows. It takes more time and labor than superficial cultivating.

But periodic deep plowing is vital for soil health in farms.

What is Cultivating?

Cultivating refers to shallower soil preparation that disturbs only the top few inches. It uproots weeds, breaks up soil clumps, and creates a more even surface for planting.

Cultivating is usually done in early spring before planting season starts. It prepares the seedbed without completely inverting the soil profile.

A variety of cultivators, harrows, weeders, and hoes can be used based on the soil conditions and crop needs.

Cultivation also continues during the growing season to manage weeds. Tilling between crop rows disrupts weed growth while avoiding damage to the crops themselves.

This light surface cultivation is faster and more frequent than deep plowing.

Key Differences

  • Plowing inverts and mixes soil layers, cultivating only disturbs the top layer.
  • Plowing is done after harvest, cultivating before planting and during the growing season.
  • Plowing brings up nutrients and buries residues, cultivating simply loosens the upper soil.
  • Plowing takes more time and heavy equipment compared to cultivating.
  • Plowing is needed for deep-rooted vegetables, cultivating prepares seed beds for shallow-rooted crops.


In summary, plowing and cultivating accomplish different goals through their depth and timing. Plowing deeply after harvest prepares fields for specific crops like potatoes and beets.

Cultivating lightly before and during the growing season creates optimal seed beds and removes competing weeds.

Farmers utilize both plowing and cultivating as needed to manage soil fertility and plant growth.