Two studies of the potential of drought preconditioning to enhance deep root production in seedlings of western larch (Larix occidentalis)

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Ashleigh Vale
Ehren Moler
Andrew Nelson


Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of drought in the western USA. Evidence suggests that drought preconditioning of plants may improve the survival of planted seedlings under dry conditions through enhanced water uptake by roots, but the mechanisms underlying enhanced survival under drought remain unknown. We tested whether the vertical distribution of roots in root plug cross-sections varied with drought preconditioning and seed source. We subjected western larch (Larix occidentalis Nutt.) seedlings from eight different provenances to Low (50-65% gravimetric water content), Moderate (65-75%), and High (≥75%) watering regimes in a nursery. We then investigated dry root mass across four root-plug sections, including the taproot and three lateral root cross-sections (top 1/3rd, middle 1/3rd, and bottom 1/3rd of root plugs). We also tested for carry-over effect of drought preconditioning on the mass of egressed roots observed among cross-sections of potting soil in a 30-day potted study. Root plug mass varied significantly (P< 0.001) with watering regime, root plug cross-section, and an interaction between watering regime and cross-section. Overall, seedlings that received less water produced lateral root plug cross-sections of greater mass, which coincided with taproots of less mass. In contrast to findings from the root plug study, the distribution of egressed root mass among cross-sections of potting soil did not vary with drought preconditioning. This is the first study to assess seedling root growth in response to drought preconditioning in western larch with a focus on the distribution of root mass in root plugs and egressed root mass among soil cross-sections. We expect this work to facilitate future efforts to improve drought hardiness of western larch seedlings. Future improvement of western larch seedlings will require investigation into whether altered root plug mass distribution translates to improved seedling performance in outplanting trials.


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Vale, Ashleigh, Ehren Moler, and Andrew Nelson. “Two Studies of the Potential of Drought Preconditioning to Enhance Deep Root Production in Seedlings of Western Larch (Larix Occidentalis)”. REFORESTA, no. 12 (December 30, 2021): 3-12. Accessed July 5, 2022.


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