In-season wheat root growth and soil water extraction in the Mediterranean environment of northern Syria
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Wheat is the most important cereal crop in the semi-arid eastern Mediterranean region that includes northern Syria. Knowledge of wheat root depth and the vertical distribution during the winter growing season is needed for sound scheduling of irrigation and efficient use of water. This article reports evaluation of root development for three winter-grown bread (Triticum aestivum L.) and durum (Triticum turgidum L.) wheat under four soil water regimes (rainfed and full irrigation with two intermediate levels of 33 and 66% of full irrigation). Roots were sampled by soil coring to a depth of 0.75 m at four occasions during 2005–2006 growing season. Two distinct phases of root development were identified, a rapid downward penetration from emergence to end tillering phase, followed by a substantial root mass growth along the profile from tillering to mid-stem-elongation phase. Roots were detected as deep as 0.75 m during the initial rapid penetration, yet only 29% of the total seasonal root mass was developed. This downward penetration rate averaged 7 mm d−1 and produced 10.8 kg ha−1 d−1 of root dry-biomass. The bulging of root mass from tillering to mid-stem-elongation coincided with vigorous shoot growth, doubling root dry-biomass at a rate of 52 kg ha−1 d−1, compared to the seasonal root growth rate of 18.3 kg ha−1 d−1. A second-degree equation described the total root dry-biomass as a function of days after emergence (r2 = 0.85), whereas a simpler equation predicted it as a function of cumulative growing degree days (r2 = 0.85). The final grain yield was a strong function of irrigation regimes, varying from 3.0 to 6.5 t ha−1, but showed no correlation with root biomass which remained similar as soil water regimes changed. This observation must be viewed with care as it lacks statistical evidence. Results showed 90% of root mass at first irrigation (15 April) confined in the top 0.60–0.75 m soil in bread wheat. Presence of shallow restricting soil layers limited root depth of durum wheat to 0.45 m, yet total seasonal root mass and grain yield were comparable with non-restricted bread wheat. Most root growth occurred during the cool rainy season and prior to the late irrigation season. The root sampling is short of rigorous, but results complement the limited field data in literature collectively suggesting that irrigation following the rainy season may best be scheduled assuming a well developed root zone as deep as the effective soil depth within the top meter of soil.