I received this question about restoring a very long lawn in Autumn 2020 by a reader of my Website. They were not able to mow their meadow during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. It grew very long. She writes:
I was unable to visit my holiday home during the COVID-19 lockdown. A neighbouring farmer tractor mowed my 1 acre garden/meadow.
When we finally returned last month we found that the farmer had cut it when it was at least two feet tall. All cuttings left on top with strips of long grass flattened by the tractor wheels.
These were turning damp and yellow, almost brown. It looks completely ruined, as if it might never recover. How do we restore it?Cilla, via Ask a Question
Thanks for your question. Don’t worry, all is not lost.
This was the exact situation I had with my new lawn when I moved house in 2018. The lawn there had not been mown for months while the buying process was ongoing and it was reaching 30cm high in places on the day we moved in. Bringing it back to a lovely lawn was quite straightforward.
Why long grass is healthy grass
Grass growing very long will have a fabulous, deep root system. Long, healthy grass is a sign that the soil is deep and in good heart. The grass roots will be full of energy and will want to push up lots more new growth. Mowing it right down to the ground will not harm the grass plants and they will be keen to throw up fresh new leaves very quickly.
One issue you may have is that you may have lost a lot of the finer “filler” grasses. These don’t grow as vigorously and will have been out-competed by the larger grasses. If you let it recover now, the lawn may end up being a little tufty and patchy. Whether you want to address this problem depends on what was there before and what you would like it to be in the future. If you don’t mind it being a little more like a meadow, then not having any finer grasses is nothing to worry about.
Restoring a very long lawn
I recommend you approach it like this:
Remove all the mown material. This will be shading out the new shoots and will take a few weeks to rot down, leaving to patches where they stand. It is best to blow or collect it all with a mower or leaf collector.
If you are able, mow the whole lot again. Right to the ground. The damaged grass stalks tend not to produce new shoots. New shoots will come from the base of the plants. Cutting off the stalks will improve the look of the lawn. It may look like a bit of a harvested field for many months if you don’t cut off the stalks.
Remove the mowing clippings. There will be a considerable amount and leaving this much on the lawn will not help new shoots come through.
[Optional] Scarify / de-thatch the lawn. This will help to level the soil, break up any root tufts, and also stimulate new growth. This maybe necessary if the grass has been long for many years. The thatch layer may just be too much for new grass to come through.
Apply a good quality, high-nitrogen lawn feed. This will promote growth of strong new leaves from the grass roots.
Once the lawn is up to mowing height, mow regularly and mow high. This will train the grass back into being an even, lush lawn.
Regular mowing is the key to a great lawn
You may get some weed growth as there will be a lot of weed seeds in the top of the lawn waiting for their opportunity. A selective weed control two months after the mowing work will keep these in check, or just pull them out when you see them.
I hope this is useful. I would love to know how you get on!
The Lawn Man