"Grass grows by inches, but dies by feet” was coined by Ohio epigram writer Henry Archer Diehl, Jr. (1911-1994) and has been cited in print since at least 1947. Diehl, the principal of an Ohio school, decided to write something more memorable on a school sign than the simple “keep off the grass.”
“There’s an old adage in the groundskeeping business: Grass is killed by feet, not yards” was cited in a 2015 newspaper.
21 November 1947, The Evening Independent (Massillon, OH), “Entertains Students At Beach City,” pg. 24, col. 1:
BEACH CITY—Archer Diehl, principal of a high school in the state, who is known as the “Epigram Man,” due to his ability to write catchy epigrams with a punch, entertained the pupils of the school with a program, Monday.
Considered one of the best writers of epigrams in the country, Diehl discovered his ability to write verses, quite by accident. When the school of which he is principal seeded the lawn, he decided the usual sign, “Keep off the Grass” too prosaic ad one which would not attract attention so he wrote the sign, “Grass grows by inches but dies by feet.”
6 December 1948, Norwalk (OH) Reflector-Herald, “Greenwich Pupils Hear Epigram Man of Ohio,” pg. 8, col. 2:
Writes Own Sign
He proceeded to write a sign of his own: “Grass grows by inches, but dies by feet.*
(Archer Diehl of Cortland, Ohio.—ed.)
Google News Archive
8 January 1956, Toledo (OH) Blade, “Radio-TV Gag Bag” culled by Larry Wolters, sec. 5, pg. 1, col. 1:
A West Allis, Wis., church notice: “Please keep off our newly seeded lawn, since grass grows by inches and is ruined by feet.”
10 April 1956, Evening World-Herald (Omaha, NE), “The Town Trumpeter” by Glenn Trump, pg. 10, col. 4:
An Omaha church notice Sunday read:
“Please keep off our newly seeded lawn, since grass grows by inches and is ruined by feet.”
Google News Archive
26 January 1960, Miami (FL) News, “The Pulse of Miami,” pg. 1C, col. 8:
Signs around the circle at the entrance to Jackson Memorial Hospital discourage short cuts with the gentle reminder:
“Grass grows by inches but dies by feet.”
29 February 1960, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Big D” by Paul Crume, sec. 1, pg. 1, col. 1:
Sign, says E. A. Plunkett, on the grounds of the college at Keene: “Grass Grows by Inches and Dies by Feet.”
Google News Archive
16 July 1973, The Blade (Toledo, OH), “I’ve Heard” by Don Wolfe, pg. P-2, col. 2:
John DeStazio, the Elmore philosopher, says, and we quote: “Grass grows by inches—and dies by feet.”
19 August 1974, The Oregonian (Portland, OR), pg. 14, col. 5:
The late Reuben Long, horseman, cattleman and true conservationist, pleaded for the preservation of Oregon wild horses but Reuben Long would have been the last to say they should be allowed to increase unmanaged. He once said to a group of scientists, “grass grows by inches, but it’s destroyed by feet.”
(Letter by John G. Clouston.—ed.)
20,000 Quips & Quotes
By Evan Esar
New York, NY: Barnes & Noble Books
Grass grows by inches and dies by feet.
By David Foster Wallace
New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company
At the sound of the first windowpane breaking and the sight of a blown-out old whore trying to hit a leather-vested biker with an old pre-metric GRASS GROWS BY INCHES BUT IT DIES BY FEET sign from #2’s clinic’s pathetic front lawn, ...
April 23, 2012
And yes, the paths in the grass are created by the OCD dogs we have. GRASS IS KILLED BY FEET! GROWS BY INCHES PUPS! oh well..
An old CSM said Grass grows by inches and is killed by feet. I need more feet!
11:36 AM - 22 Jun 2013
Quote: “Grass grows by inches but it’s killed by feet."~George Thomas
16 Dec 2013
Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch
At 61 years old, the field at The Diamond has seen plenty
Posted: Tuesday, April 7, 2015 10:30 pm
By JOHN O’CONNOR Richmond Times-Dispatch
The Diamond turns 30 this season, which is relatively old for a ballpark, but it’s not even half as old as the baseball patch it watches over.
Todd Parnell, the Squirrels’ vice president/COO/general manager, points out that since VCU’s baseball team also practices and plays at The Diamond, the field has been used considerably more often than a typical 61-year-old field.
“There’s an old adage in the groundskeeping business: Grass is killed by feet, not yards,” said Parnell.