Root growth and water uptake in winter wheat under deficit irrigation Academic Article uri icon


  • Root growth is critical for crops to use soil water under water-limited conditions. A field study was conducted to investigate the effect of available soil water on root and shoot growth, and root water uptake in winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) under deficit irrigation in a semi-arid environment. Treatments consisted of rainfed, deficit irrigation at different developmental stages, and adequate irrigation. The rainfed plots had the lowest shoot dry weight because available soil water decreased rapidly from booting to late grain filling. For the deficit-irrigation treatments, crops that received irrigation at jointing and booting had higher shoot dry weight than those that received irrigation at anthesis and middle grain filling. Rapid root growth occurred in both rainfed and irrigated crops from floral initiation to anthesis, and maximum rooting depth occurred by booting. Root length density and dry weight decreased after anthesis. From floral initiation to booting, root length density and growth rate were higher in rainfed than in irrigated crops. However, root length density and growth rate were lower in rainfed than in irrigated crops from booting to anthesis. As a result, the difference in root length density between rainfed and irrigated treatments was small during grain filling. The root growth and water use below 1.4 m were limited by a caliche (45% CaCO3) layer at about 1.4 m profile. The mean water uptake rate decreased as available soil water decreased. During grain filling, root water uptake was higher from the irrigated crops than from the rainfed. Irrigation from jointing to anthesis increased seasonal evapotranspiration, grain yield, harvest index and water-use efficiency based on yield (WUE), but did not affect water-use efficiency based on aboveground biomass. There was no significant difference in WUE among irrigation treatments except one-irrigation at middle grain filling. Due to a relatively deep root system in rainfed crops, the higher grain yield and WUE in irrigated crops compared to rainfed crops was not a result of rooting depth or root length density, but increased harvest index, and higher water uptake rate during grain filling.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Xue, Q., Zhu, Z., Musick, J. T., Stewart, B. A., & Dusek, D. A.

citation count

  • 142

complete list of authors

  • Xue, Q||Zhu, Z||Musick, JT||Stewart, BA||Dusek, DA

publication date

  • November 2003