Pallant, E., Holmgren, R.A., Schuler, G.E. et al. Plant Soil (1993) 153: 273. doi:10.1007/BF00013000
The study of fine roots growing under field conditions is limited by the techniques currently available for separating these roots from soil. This study had two objectives: to measure the total root length of field grown corn (Zea mays L.) by root diameter class, and to develop an inexpensive and efficient root washing device that would effectively capture all of the roots in a field soil sample. An inexpensive Fine Root Extraction Device (FRED) was constructed from readily available materials and was successful at extracting all roots, including very fine diameter roots (≥0.025 mm), from field soil samples. Greater than 99.7% of marked roots introduced to the FRED were recaptured by the device. Soil samples from three depths, and on three dates, from field grown corn were placed in the FRED. We found that more than 56% of total root length occurred in roots whose diameters were smaller than 0.175 mm, and more than 35% of root length occurred in roots smaller than 0.125 mm in diameter. Corn roots of the diameters described here have not been reported in field soils prior to this study. Root researchers who fail to measure these very fine roots will significantly underestimate root length density. Widespread use of the FRED should improve our understanding of root distribution in field soils.