Lawn Too High? How to Cut an Overgrown Lawn

Updated on June 17, 2015

When you inherit a lawn after it has been left unattended for some time, it is often necessary to deal with an overgrown mess. You’ll need a bit more patience than someone cutting a well-maintained lawn. Getting it into perfect shape is a little more difficult.

Commercial lawn companies have equipment that will cut such a lawn, but it can be very expensive to hire them. And in the summer months they can be so busy that you will have to wait a long time before they can deal with the problem.

I hope that following these basic steps will give you a reasonable lawn without getting too complicated.

Removing the Top Layer of Grass

This first step is the hardest. Whatever tool you use, it will be a workout.

I suggest using either a strimmer or scythe. Now, many people are afraid of scythes, but in my experience an Austrian scythe will cut through grass that is up to a meter tall without any trouble.

Many people will not have access to a scythe. Depending on the size of your garden you can either use a sickle, which is available from most garden centers, or a strimmer. Of the two, I think a strimmer is the best choice.

In general, when cutting lawn, you will want a strimmer with a plastic wire attachment rather than a steel blade. I find that strimmers tend to tear the grass a lot, and the grass can get caught up in the tool. I recommend taking off a small section at a time and removing the waste.

Once you have removed the top layer, you will need keep going until you can access the lawn. If the lawn has been left unattended for more than a year, the grass may have bent over, in which case you will have to keep on going over it with the strimmer until you have a lawn that can be cut via a mower.

After you have removed the first layer, I generally recommend watering the lawn thoroughly and leaving it as it is for a week or so to recover.

Doing a Second Trim

Once you have left the lawn to recover for a week, it is time for the second trim. By this stage, you will probably have a lawn that is short enough that you can a conventional lawn mower on it. However, before starting you need to set the lawn mower to the highest setting.

Cut it with the lawn mower, trying to make sure everything is even.

The reality is that after you are finished mowing it, the lawn will almost certainly look dreadful. Don’t worry about that. Things will improve over the next few weeks.

Which Lawn Mower is Best?

In general, if you are mowing a really tough patch of lawn, or a large lawn, you will want a gas mower. But if you have a small yard, an electric mower is best. I often use an electric mower in my own garden, in the tricky areas near the house, and it works very well.

Flower Border Edges

It is often best to strim or lawn-mow up to the flower border, and then use a trimmer to make the edge of the flower border nice and neat.

Your lawn may look dreadful after the second trim.  Give it patience and it will recover.
Your lawn may look dreadful after the second trim. Give it patience and it will recover.

Scarify the Lawn

The next step is to scarify the lawn. This requires a lot of effort. Get a scarifying rake, and rake the lawn roughly one metre at a time. Get all the moss and weeds off the lawn. Once you have done this, have a cold drink and try not to look at the mess. It won’t be pretty.

Alternatively, if you have a really large garden, you can hire a machine that will do the job for you.

Deal With Drainage

If you have any area in the lawn that is persistently wet, prod it over with a fork, and then brush sand into the lawn to fill holes and create drainage. You can speed this process up by renting machines to do it, but the machines work the same way. All you are doing is adding drainage holes to the lawn.

Feeding the Lawn

If it's spring, buy a package of lawn fertilizer, and follow the directions on it. But fertilizer shouldn’t normally be applied in autumn, since you don’t want to encourage green growth just before the frosts.

Reseeding the Lawn

If you have any really bare patches, you can buy a bag of lawn seed and follow the directions on the packet. It can be a good idea to cover the seeded areas with prickly branches, to stop birds eating the grass seedlings.

After you have done all this, the lawn may look pretty bad for a while. But it will start to grow back, and you will be amazed how rapidly it begins to look like a well-maintained lawn. After that, all you have to do to keep the lawn serviceable is mow it regularly.


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