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The growth and activity of winter wheat roots in the field: the effect of sowing date and soil type on root growth of high-yielding crops

  • P. B. Barraclough (a1) and R. A. Leigh (a1)

Summary

The effect of sowing date on root growth of high-yielding crops (8–1 It grain/ha, 85% D.M.) of winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L. cv. Hustler) was measured at Rothamsted and Woburn in 1980 and 1981. Roots were sampled by coring on five occasions and changes in root dry weight and length were determined. The average growth rate between March and June was about 1 g/m2/day (200 m/m2/day), over 5 times that measured between December and March. Increases in root weight or length with time were generally exponential to anthesis when the crops had 101–172 g root/m2 (20–32 km/m2). September-sown wheat had more root than October-sown wheat at all times, but whereas early differences in length were maintained throughout the season, root weights converged between March and June. Overall, there was no significant difference in root dry-matter production between sites at anthesis, but there was a substantial difference between years. Differences in root growth between crops were reduced by plotting the amount of root against either the number of days from sowing or accumulated thermal time. Using che latter, root growth between December and June was reasonably linear although there was some indication of a lag below 500 °C days. Regression equations obtained for the relationships between root growth and accumulated thermal time also fitted previously published data and may provide general descriptions of root growth with time.

Roots of September-sown crops reached 1 m depth by December but those of October-sown crops were not detectable at this depth until April. For most crops the distribution of roots with depth was reasonably described by an exponential decay function, with over 50% of the roots in the top 20 cm of soil at all times. At Woburn in 1981, a plough-pan restricted roots to the upper soil horizons for most of the season but apparently had little effect on the total amount of root produced. For one of the experimental crops an empirical mathematical function describing the distribution of roots with depth and time is presented.

Using the data from this and previously published studies, the relationship between grain yield and the amount of root at anthesis was investigated. Total root length was positively correlated with grain yield but nonetheless similarly yielding crops could have different-sized root systems. Total root dry weight was poorly correlated with grain yield.

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References

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The growth and activity of winter wheat roots in the field: the effect of sowing date and soil type on root growth of high-yielding crops

  • P. B. Barraclough (a1) and R. A. Leigh (a1)

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