Plant and Soil

, Volume 267, Issue 1–2, pp 225–234 | Cite as

A method to separate plant roots from soil and analyze root surface area



Analysis of the effects of soil management practices on crop production requires knowledge of these effects on plant roots. Much time is required to wash plant roots from soil and separate the living plant roots from organic debris and previous years’ roots. We developed a root washer that can accommodate relatively large soil samples for washing. The root washer has a rotary design and will accommodate up to 24 samples (100 mm diam. by 240 mm long) at one time. We used a flat-bed scanner to digitize an image of the roots from each sample and used a grid system with commercially-available image analysis software to analyze each sample for root surface area. Sensitivity analysis and subsequent comparisons of ‘dirty’ samples containing the roots and all the organic debris contained in the sample and ‘clean’ samples where the organic debris was manually removed from each sample showed that up to 15% of the projected image could be coveredwith debris without affecting accuracy and precision of root surface area measurements. Samples containing a large amount of debris may need to be partitioned into more than one scanning tray to allow accurate measurements of the root surface area. Sample processing time was reduced from 20 h, when hand separation of roots from debris was used, to about 0.5 h, when analyzing the image from an uncleaned sample. The method minimizes the need for preprocessing steps such as dying the roots to get better image contrast for image analysis. Some information, such as root length, root diameter classes and root weights, is not obtained when using this technique. Root length measurements, if needed, could be made by hand on the digital images. Root weight measurement would require sample cleaning and the advantage of less processing time per sample with this method would be lost. The significance of the tradeoff between information not obtained using this technique and the ability to process a greater number of samples with the time and personnel resources available must be determined by the individual researcher and research objectives.

Key words

chickpea elutriation pea root surface area soil management 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.USDA-ARSAkronUSA

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