Fine root lifespan has previously been estimated at 3 to 4 weeks for apple trees growing in England. We used nondestructive belowground imaging technology to investigate the accuracy of this estimate for apple trees growing in central Pennsylvania. Eight root observation tubes (minirhizotrons) were installed beneath each of six 20-year-old `Red Delicious' apple trees on M26 rootstock. Videos of roots growing against the tubes were taken at intervals of 14 to 28 days between October to June, depending on the amount of root activity. Images were used to construct a database of life history information for over 500 individual roots. A flush of fine roots was produced in the early fall, followed by a period of low but constant mortality that lasted through December. Roots that survived to this time were generally maintained throughout the winter and following spring. A second flush of root production occurred in the spring, coinciding with bud burst and flowering. Root mortality was highest in late spring following this flush. In contrast to earlier estimates of apple root lifespan, we found that >30% of the fine roots produced in the fall lived for ≥200 days. Most of these roots developed red-brown pigmentation, a feature that previously has been associated with cortical cell death. However, the ability of these pigmented roots to produce new white laterals in the spring argues against categorizing these as dead roots. The information on root demographics provided by this study adds to our understanding of seasonal carbon and nutrient allocation patterns in apple.
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