Don’t Mow – Let It Grow!

orchard herbal ley

Once the kids have gone and cricket games are no longer, you may wish to pause and ponder the usefulness of your lawn.

If no compelling reason other than tidiness comes to mind, let me suggest you plant it up or let it go. Either way you’re adding to your homegrown mulch stash, improving the overall health of your garden and have one less job on Saturday. Indulge me here and my home grown mulch addiction – because there is no goodness like it. Hay (or simply long grass) is super nutritious, especially if mineral rich plants like dandelion, chicory and plantain are in the house. 

Nuts and bolts


Everywhere you weed-eat, mow or (god forbid) spray is fair game. Simply let it grow long and when you next need mulch, lop it down in your chosen way. Dont raze it to the ground, leave a good 10cm stub behind for best health.

There are a surprising amount of opportunities for homemade hay once your mind shifts its focus from tidy gardening to the wild-side. Gather little bits from here there and everywhere, you really dont need a paddock full.  

Growing your own means there is one less thing to buy – how cool is that! And along the way providing a pesticide free mulch for your garden – yes!

My garden is too small

No my friend, it is not! Many of you in small space gardens dismiss this idea of growing your own mulch, thinking you have no room. The thing is there is no difference – small or large, the amount of space to grow the mulch is relative to the size of garden needing the mulch. We’re all in the same boat.

Benefits abound


Bees, butterflies and insects adore this kind of stomping ground. Our passion to nurture bees and indeed all life forms (don’t forget our friends beneath the soil), means we’ll all be making the leap and getting more wild/ less tidy, the more our understanding grows.

Left to grow, roots dive deep grasping the earth – strong!, building humus and hanging onto ever increasing amounts of water. 

Beneficial fungi and their companions gather beneath trees and spray free, wild areas and spread outward from there creating a nutrient exchange network that boosts the health and production of all your gardens 100 fold.

Blaze a trail

tamaki december

I cut a path to whatever fruit tree is being harvested for easy access to fallen fruits. I like it too because a surprising amount of people will just stand at the edge of long grass areas – a path invites them in.

When the tree finishes with its bounty, I let the meadow return and open a new path to the next ready tree. This regular supply of mulch is the bees knees.

You can apply this idea to your backyard by cutting a track to wherever it is you roam – the washing line, the chook house, the vegie patch, the driveway. Tracks make getting about easier and keeps legs dry when it rains. 

Fly in the ointment

You may have one – another half with firm ideas of lawn management. Fingers crossed you can meet halfway. A good next step is to mow a bit higher and get used to a more rustic look. Longer lawns prevent many lawn weeds like Onehunga taking grip. Or have a play with leaving the lawn as long as possible before mowing. I feel a prize coming on for every centimetre!

Consider it a work in progress.

When meadow lawn doesn’t work

  • Hayfever is no fun and if one of your beloveds gets sneezy and itchy this wont work for you. Perhaps turn your lawn into a vegie garden or one of these gorgeous mulch providing gardens instead.
  • Bee allergies are compelling reasons to cut the lawn and lop off clover flowers.
  • High fire risk areas
  • Young kids at play. We used to play cricket in the lawn off the deck but now the kids are gone we no longer need it so its fully planted up now. Life is ever changing and gardens evolve alongside our needs.


  1. What a pleasure to read, Kath! I have been recently loving the meadows around where I live. These beautiful seas of grass in all hues of gold and brown. It would be such a pleasure if there was more of this to see, let alone the benefits of course. Thank you for heralding the way forward with your article!

    • I agree Zoe – bring it on!

      • Hi Kath,
        A great idea and I am all for it, but I have a big problem with a lot of kikuyu in most of my lawn.
        It just throttles everything else … any ideas about getting rid of it other than spraying and starting again.

        • Good point Bev – yes Kikuyu is a keen beast, not only throttling but outcompeting through herbicidal toxins it produces – nasty! I agree you cannot let go wild! It depends what your end goal is and how big the lawn. I have had great success with sheet mulching – this works in a smaller area that you can keep an eye on – lotsa cardboard lotsa mulch and plant it up with mineral accumulators preferably a tree as well, make your own dynamic guild – obviously not getting rid of it instantly this way but improving soil will soften the kikuyus grip for sure, or fast growing coloniser trees to outcompete or keep it and constantly slash it for mulch πŸ™‚

          • Thanks Kath,
            It is just a small mown lawn between flower gardens and the fruit trees and vegetable garden.
            It is slowly taking over the lawn grass, but I could just try and fork it out and then sow grass seed in the autumn…..just needs a lot of elbow grease to do that.

          • Oh gosh yes. And sadly its a pointless exercise because the kikuyu will always outcompete it and return. Are there any places on your section where the kikuyu is fading? If so, notice what is planted there and use that same pattern to outcompete it now. Kikuyu is right up there as one of the trickiest weeds Bev. Otherwise consider sheet mulching and planting the space densely with comfrey, chicory, sorrel and other tap roots include mineral accumulators with spreading roots as well like yarrow. And instead of spraying, consider a roll on like cut n paste to dab on the bits of kikuyu that return around and through the sheet mulch. This is the way that I have had the very best success with it. To date kikuyu, blackberry and convulvulus are the only 2 weeds I have had to give up my 100% organic stand point for, but there is light years of difference between rolling on a glyphosate and spraying it on. Hope this helps!

  2. Hi Kath, thanks sooooooooo much for this! Completely validates what I’ve been doing/not doing at home….ie, mowing! Love it and th biodiversity we’re seeing, be it insect life or rabbits and pheasant in our urban back yard…I spent an hour or so line trimming around th raised bed garden and edges of th chook runs and now I’ve got hay/mulch just as you say…th rest will keep for another day…brilliant!…better go finish th chook run extension and then think about….autumnal crops….love yr work, always inspires me, thanks!

  3. Absolutely Kath! When I bought the place I’m in it was just lawn, crap soil, a few ornamentals and unhealthy pittos. Bit by bit I’ve been planting, mulching (living near the coast helps), big compost piles/hugelkultures. I just weedeat a path among the yarrow, dandelions and grasses for access. Bees, hoverflies and other goodies galore.
    Exactly as your article. While it’s not exactly productive, it’s a more natural pleasant space.

    • Yes Terri – alot more plesant and I think once people go there they’ll prefer it too! While it doesn’t seem to, alot happens in these wild areas – they’re important side kicks to the productive places!

  4. Joy Anderton says

    Happy New Year Kath
    WOW thus may just be the year I dare to let the lawn grow!!
    I have hinted at it for many years but there have been no encouraging murmers so now I have your wonderful post to. back me up. We came back from holiday to about 8 cms of lovely clover plantain and dock so I mowed it and left cuttings on lawn. Whimp me. I think there will ge many stop starts to my lawn letting go efforts. Will keep you posted.
    Yours in long grass

  5. Maike Fichtner says

    We also just cut where and when absolutely necessary.I am under the impression, that I cannot use this seedy grass or hay for mulching the vegie beds. Is this correct or can I use it without having to hand pull weeds for a long time?

    • Good point here and one others will be interested in. Options are to pile the ‘hay’ let it sprout and rot a bit before using, or as in my case regular hoeing keeps everything sorted.

  6. Andrea Potter says

    I have left the chicken area lawn long for the last wee while (only about 3 weeks growth, mind). There is white clover and cats ears and bees everywhere, which is great, but unfortunately my lawn is mostly Kikuyu, which just gets longer and higher if it is not trimmed. It even got to the stage where I couldn’t open my garden shed door because the kikuyu had got too high. The runners get into my vege beds too which is a pain. I guess the good thing though is that it remains green even in a dry summer when everything else in the lawn has died off.

    • Pros and cons to everything Andrea. The thing is to make it work for you – cutting tracks through and around makes a big difference. Life is better when shed doors open smoothly πŸ™‚ Happy new year Kath

  7. I let my lawn grow for about 6 weeks during peak flowering time and enjoyed the insects coming in, have now cut it, blades very high and will again let it all flower before mowing again. A few sideways glances from neighbours, but well worth it for the soil and insect health.

    • Yay! I’m so excited by this lawn revolution and secretly love sideways glances … it means you are ahead of your time. Happy gardening Sarah!

  8. Fabulous! We are experimenting with a “carbon sink” lawn around our house. We aren’t letting it grow too tall (as it’s full of broad leaf plants,, but certainly not shaving it anymore.). Our main purpose is to provide another way of plants taking carbon into the soil, while we enjoy a more ‘natural, wilde garden look”

  9. Hi kath just a note from the deep south have half an acre but no lawns, not enough space. Inoticed my feijoas actually love the long grass around them as shelter from the sou wester that rips thru here at seven hundred feet altitudeon its way to the arctic and also the amount of slinks that dart about and insects. I feed wax eyes tui and bell bird during the winter a sight for sore eyes up to thirty bell birds at a timefeed them sugar water and fruit. Keep up the good work neat to read your blog and others thanks.
    ? No

    • Thanks Noel! I’m always happy to hear from curious gardeners like yourself. Long grass is fabulous insulation, creating the best little microclimate when its too hot or too cold and the benefit and joy of all the wildlife who come to play is next level, I agree a sight for sore eyes. Its such a treat to watch it all unfold – long grass is so very beautiful, I always feel sorry for mowed lawns πŸ™‚

  10. I inherited my father’s house on 2-1/2 acres. For whatever reason, he cleared it all and planted grass, which after many years is like mowing a mine-field. So I’ve let 1.-1/2 acres go natural. The soil is poor and weeds abound – at least the county calls them weeds (hairy catsear). I’ve been sewing patches of dutch white clover which the deer love and needs no mowing. Even more than wanting to mow less I became aware of the harm I was doing to wildlife and foraging insects by mowing. There are times when thousands of frogs emerge from nearby wetlands and migrate across the property. And non-venomous garter snakes. Mowing is deadly for them. And at the speed I mow on a riding mower to cover 2-1/2 acres in about 4 hours, I’m certain I run down bees. So letting the yard go back to natural is not only a time/labor savings, but protecting the wildlife. I may incur the wrath of the county agriculture department who consider the weeds to be “noxious” or an invasive species. But still I’m targeting a mostly maintenance free yard. Thanks for the confirmation and encouragement, Kath.

    • Yes! Such a good story Jack thanks so much for sharing it. Its not always true that just because weeds go to seed that they’ll proliferate in neighbouring properties. In NZ farmers freak about ragwort but actually the seed doesn’t go far at all, its very localised to the plant. Its good to be armed with specifics of seeding habits of the weeds in your yard to help soothe freaking out neighbours! And what makes gardening with nature so very interesting too, I love engaging with the land in this way, by being ever curious rather than in the automatic conditioning of seeing a weed and thinking must kill it! or its bad! It will be wonderful to see your land evolve over the next 10 years and how the groundcover changes and what new animals move in – what an adventure! Enjoy!

  11. I’m reading Garden Revolution by Larry Weaver on a similar subject. Inspiring.

  12. Hi Kath, we live on the outskirts of Auckland on a small block that was full of kikuyu paspalum and blackberry. We extended an old orchard and let the grass grow from sept to late feb then mow for mulch. Other than planting comfrey around each tree and loads of manure we have done nothing else and the sheer volume of growth with all varieties of flowers easily outcompete the bad stuff. It is only when the flowers have died off that the paspalum etc take over but by then we mow anyway. The bird and insect life is great and qual and pheasant nest in the long grass undisturbed. Win win all roun I say!

  13. Sandra Cully says

    Hi Kath

    New to your posts and becoming re-motivated and re-educated, thank you! A quick question, we seeked advise from fruit tree “experts’ before planting our orchard a few years ago. They provided us with our heritage trees and some ongoing advice on a couple of occasions. One of the things they recommended was that we keep the grass further away from the base of the tree root area so as not to compete for nutrients. So now I’m a bit confused and unsure what to do. What are your thoughts?

  14. Jennifer Hand says

    Hello. I am in Auckland with. Mainly kikuyu lawn . What are the best grasses and flowers to plant around the trees and other possibly wild spots?

  15. Kia ora Kath,
    I’m totally behind this kaupapa and when I bought my house a few years ago immediately let the lawn go wild. Unfortunately, tradescantia and to a lesser extent convovulus crept in through the boundaries and made a head start on the garden while I was admiring all the flowers blooming on top! Any ideas about how to balance these aspects? The long lawn seems to provide perfect cover for the advancing weeds