Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Plants, Soils, and Climate

Department name when degree awarded

Plants, Soils, and Biometeorology

Committee Chair(s)

Jennifer W. MacAdam


Jennifer W. MacAdam


Lynn M. Dudley


Martyn M. Caldwell


A major problem in irrigated agriculture in the Western U.S. is the gradual accumulation of salinity in the plant root zone. These nonuniformly saline soils contain increasing amounts of salinity with depth, and salt accumulation is accelerated in situations where leaching is minimized. Root growth and thus plant yield is limited in these soils due to decreased water uptake. We studied the root growth of two subpopulations of alfalfa differing in their ability to produce fibrous roots to determine if altering root morphology would increase plant yield and water extraction, in an irrigated saline soil.

Soil profiles for a control and three treatments with increasing salinity were packed in to PVC cylinders fitted with a flat window down one side for root measurements. A single alfalfa plant was grown from seed in each cylinder, and irrigated with water enriched primarily in sulfate salts. Alfalfa plants were grown for five successive harvests in a greenhouse, and water extraction was measured in the control and high Salinity treatment by time-domain reflectometry. Final electrical conductivities of the soil ranged from 3.0 to 23 dS m-1. The yield of the high fibrous root subpopulation was not reduced by the soil salinity by the fifth harvest, while that of the low fibrous subpopulation was reduced 22%. Root growth of the high fibrous subpopulation was significantly increased by as much as 54% in the upper 30 cm of the root zone, compared to that of the low fibrous subpopulation. Water extraction was higher in the upper, least saline portion of the root zone for the high fibrous root subpopulation. The results of this study support the use of alfalfa with increased fibrous root production under saline irrigation with minimal leaching.