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Cleaning Roots from Soil Cores

Fig. 4. Soil cores divided into 15-cm segments for determining root distribution with depth.

Fig. 4. Soil cores divided into 15-cm segments for determining root distribution with depth.

We use the following procedure for cleaning roots from soil cores:

  • Cut the core into desired segment lengths. We measure the desired lengths and then shake the soil out into separate containers (Fig. 4).
  • Soak each core segment in soapy water.
  • Sort through the soil sample and pick out large root pieces. Place them in a small beaker of water.
  • Many roots will float between the soil and the surface of the water. Stir the sample, then pour the liquid into a plastic sieve. Pick out any contaminating organic matter, then transfer roots to the small beaker of water. Repeat five times.
  • Transfer the soil sample to a large metal sieve, and sift through the sample with forceps to find any remaining roots.
  • Store the roots in a small plastic vial containing 25% alcohol.
Soil Core cleaning equipment

 Fig. 5. Materials for coring and cleaning roots from soil cores: a) small beaker for holding roots while cleaning core segment, b) container for soaking core segment in soapy water, c) large container for water, d) soap (low-foaming preferred), e) spatula for cutting soil core into segments, f) ruler for measuring core segments, g) plastic-mesh sieve for catching rinsed roots, h) sieve for sorting remaining roots from soil after rinsing, i) newspaper for covering work surface, j) pliers for pulling plastic liner tube from soil corer, k) small screwdriver to pry liner tube away from side of soil corer, l) marker for labeling root storage containers, m) forceps for removing roots from soil, n) knife for scraping clay from soil corer bit or cutting liner tubes, o) towel for cleaning inside of coring or drying workspace, p) containers for storing roots, q) 25% alcohol for storing roots. A bucket for discarding soil and water is also useful.