Cessation of traditional management threatens semi-natural grassland diversity through the colonisation or increase of competitive species adapted to nutrient-poor conditions. Regular mowing is one practice that controls their abundance. This study evaluated the ecophysiological mechanisms limiting short- and long-term recovery after mowing for Festuca paniculata, a competitive grass that takes over subalpine grasslands in the Alps following cessation of mowing. We quantified temporal variations in carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) content, starch, fructan and total soluble sugars in leaves, stem bases and roots of F. paniculata during one growth cycle in mown and unmown fields and related them to the dynamics of soil mineral N concentration and soil moisture. Short-term results suggest that the regrowth of F. paniculata following mowing might be N-limited, first because of N dilution by C increments in the plant tissue, and second, due to low soil mineral N and soil moisture at this time of year. However, despite short-term effects of mowing on plant growth, C and N content and concentration at the beginning of the following growing season were not affected. Nevertheless, total biomass accumulation at peak standing biomass was largely reduced compared to unmown fields. Moreover, lower C storage capacity at the end of the growing season impacted C allocation to vegetative reproduction during winter, thereby dramatically limiting the horizontal growth of F. paniculata tussocks in the long term. We conclude that mowing reduces the growth of F. paniculata tussocks through both C and N limitation. Such results will help understanding how plant responses to defoliation regulate competitive interactions within plant communities.