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The Problem:

  • Lawn grew very long last year, perhaps 8 inches (broken mower)
  • Lawn has wintered in New England, only mild snow, but is brown and pressed down
  • What is the best strategy to get it back to a manageable height?

Overgrown lawn before winter was coming.

What I know I should do:

  • Mow it down in stages
    • but not until it starts growing in the spring

What I know I shouldn't do:

  • Mow it all the way down at once

Specific questions I know I have:

  • Should I try to get a top-mower-height mow in before it starts greening, to open it up for air/light, since it's brown and packed down?
  • How often to mow once it's greening?
    • 1x week, lowering height each time?
    • 2x week at same height, then drop height for the next week?
    • Other?
  • Should I fertilize or perform any other non-mowing steps?

The questions I don't know to ask:

  • What other advice would you suggest for helping the lawn not die?
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You are worrying about the wrong thing, IMO.

Unlike most plants, grass grows from the bottom of the blades, not from the top. If the top has been damaged by the winter weather, it is no use to the plant so you might as well get rid of it all in one go, so long as your mower can do that without causing more damage.

The most important thing is not to damage the base of the lawn, and the soil structure. So the most important issue is don't do any work on the lawn at all, until the ground has dried out after the winter snow and rain.

Repeated mowing to cut the grass down in stages while it is not growing is just damaging the soil structure by repeatedly compacting it, and if your mower is less than perfect you are repeatedly trying to pull the grass up by the roots as you mow it.

Once the ground is dry and the weather is warm enough for the grass to start growing (i.e. overnight temperatures above 50F or 5C), cut the grass down to about 2 inches, rake out any "thatch" of dead grass, and apply fertilizer and/or weedkiller.

The lawn may not look very nice just after the first mowing, but it will soon recover. Since it grows from the base, the second mowing will get rid of any damage at the top of the blades of grass caused by the first mowing.

  • Excellent, that's exactly the sort of thing I didn't know to ask! – gowenfawr Mar 24 at 15:26

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