The abandonment of management in Swiss fen meadows has reduced their plant species diversity and the fitness of some typical fen species. We examined whether the resumption of mowing can reverse these effects, and if so, which mechanisms are responsible for community change; we also tested whether restoration success depends on the duration since abandonment. Experimental mowing was applied to 15 montane fen meadows of NE Switzerland that had been abandoned for 4–35 years. After two years of mowing, plant species richness was 11% higher in mown plots (2 m2) than in fallow plots, approaching levels of neighbouring continuously managed fen meadows. In particular, experimental mowing significantly increased the number of fen indicator species (+15%) as well as herbs and woody species (seedlings and saplings), while grass, sedge and rush species richness was not affected. Mowing had little effect on aboveground biomass, but strongly reduced litter mass (-50%) and canopy height (-20%). Seedling densities of two common species showed opposite responses to mowing: they increased in Carex davalliana and decreased in Succisa pratensis, approaching values of continuously mown fen meadows. Duration since abandonment had no significant effect on any of the variables. Our results demonstrate a rapid recovery of montane fen plant communities irrespective of the duration since abandonment (up to 35 years). We conclude that the restoration of pre-fallow plant community composition is likely to be successful if site conditions (hydrology, nutrient status) remain intact and if common habitat specialists are still present in the vegetation and/or seed bank.