The role of soil hydraulic conductivity on the spatial and temporal variation of root water uptake in drip-irrigated corn

Yan Li, Rony Wallach*, Yehezkel Cohen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


A multiplexed TDR system and a heat-pulse system for stem sap flow measurements were used to determine the spatial and temporal pattern of root water uptake in field-grown corn. The TDR probes, 0.15 and 0.30 m in length, were buried vertically in the soil profile to a depth of 0.95 m below the soil surface and heat-pulse sensors were installed on the plant base. Nocturnal readings from TDR probes were used successfully to differentiate the two components of moisture change: root uptake and net drainage. The instantaneous rate of water extraction by the plant measured by the heat-pulse system agreed well with the integrated rate of root water uptake measured frequently (at half-hour or hourly intervals) by the TDR probes. This agreement enabled further exploration into the cause of the evolution of the spatial and temporal patterns of root water uptake during a drying cycle. The results indicated that right after irrigation in the well-watered soil profile, it is the spatial distribution of the roots that mainly determines the typical pattern of root extraction, in addition to the fact that the roots near the plant base are more effective than those farther away. The higher density and effectiveness of the roots near the plant base dry the soil rapidly so that soil hydraulic conductivity soon becomes a limiting factor for water uptake. Further analysis revealed that a decrease in root uptake occurs near the plant base under a given atmospheric demand when the relative bulk soil hydraulic conductivity decreases to 0.002Kr. This suggests that low conductivity (high resistance) in the soil near the plant base is the initial cause for downward and lateral shifting of the root uptake pattern. Note that this critical value of hydraulic conductivity is not universal since it depends on the soil type and atmospheric water demand during the period under observation. Therefore, prior to the application of moisture content or suction head as measures of water availability or to control irrigation scheduling, it is suggested that these parameters be calibrated by the soil K(θ) or K(ι) curves, respectively, for the expected atmospheric water demand for the specific crop and growing period.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)131-142
Number of pages12
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2002


  • Root
  • Sap flow
  • Soil hydraulic conductivity
  • Soil water availability
  • TDR


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