Roots Demystified:

Change your gardening habits to help roots thrive

Roots Demystified:

Change your gardening habits to help roots thrive

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Some of the reviews:

What a book! Robert Kourik’s underground pursuit has unearthed a great treasure, a guide both wondrous and eminently practical. —Roger B. Swain, Science Editor, Horticulture magazine; Host, PBS’s The Victory Garden

We are grateful to have John Weaver’s important root work made available to people everywhere through Robert Kourik’s new book. Everyone needs a better sense of his or her roots, and Roots Demystified will help a lot. —John Jeavons, Author, How to Grow More Vegetables, Ecology Action, Willits, CA

Roots Demystified is filled with practical advice that every gardener should know—whether beginning or advanced gardeners. Robert connects the dots between what we already know and new information. —Rosalind Creasy, Author, The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping

A rare combination of firsthand observation, research, humor, and the author’s practicality make for a refreshingly original look at roots. —Joy Larkcom, Author, Grow Your Own Vegetables, Lislevane, Co. Cork, Ireland

A gold mine of fascinating facts about the secret life of plants under the ground. Kourik has spent a lifetime studying plants, both as a professional gardener and as journalist hunting down the truth hidden in horticultural research. In this book, he has pulled all that together into a coherent story about the way plants and soils really interact. While the focus of Roots Demystified is most squarely on trees and shrubs, the book is one of the best I have read on how to get plants of any kind to grow, and grow well.

—Jack Ruttle, Garden Design magazine

Roots Demystified pulls together practical science from a wide range of sources, including a unique assembly of detailed scale drawings of a variety of veggie and tree root systems. Even a seasoned and well-read plant person will find interesting and practical information in this well-written manual. For example, in my 27-plus years as a tree nurseryman, I had not learned that trees redistribute water in the soil profile via “hydraulic lift” [Chapter 11]! Soil fertility and irrigation are covered as well, made imminently useful presented in the context of where and how roots grow. —Robert Woolley, President, Dave Wilson Nursery, Hickman, CA

Gardeners interested in sustainability will find Roots Demystified an invaluable resource. If roots are the key to sustainable gardening, Robert Kourik’s Roots Demystified offers the key to growing terrific roots. The astonishingly detailed pictures are an education in themselves, earning this excellent new handbook a place on every gardener’s reference shelf.  —Ann Lovejoy, Author/Lecturer, Bainbridge Island, WA


Roots Demystified is the only book in print for gardeners with such an extensive variety of root illustrations. There are twenty-five meticulous drawings produced by horticultural researchers who actually dug, troweled, dusted, mapped, and drew their way through entire growing root systems, down to the tiniest root. The resulting illustrations are a revelation of the beauty contained in the actual patterns, and habits of rooting plants. Guidelines also provide a home gardener with tips for the practical use of the new information.

The vegetable root drawings were done by Dr. Weaver in the 1930s in Nebraska who actually dug, troweled, dusted, mapped, and drew his way through entire growing root systems, down to the tiniest root. I often wonder if he was married and who could put up with such a compulsive guy. No idea.

Did you know?

About 90% of a tree’s roots are to be found in the top 18 inches of the soil.

At the end of its first year’s growth, an apple tree can incorporate as many as 17,000,000 root hairs with a total length of well over a mile!

The glorious magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), can grow roots 3.77 times wider than the dripline.

A measly turnip can produce roots that explore 100 cubic feet of soil (enough “dirt” to fill 20-25 wheelbarrows), and the roots of the lowly lima-bean bush as much as 200 to 225 cubic feet.

There’s plenty more inside. Dig in!

The book has a total of 70 B&W illustrations. The book is 168 pages of text, illustrations, appendices, bibliography, and index. The cover is full color and the inside B&W.

Available now.

Visit the Media Center for lots of information about Robert Kourik

Our latest reviews:

From Sunset Garden's blog:

By Jim McCausland, Sunset senior garden writer

Robert Kourik is crazy about roots. He’s studied them, collected specimens that are displayed all over his property, and now written a remarkable book about them. Called Roots Demystified (Metamorphic Press, Occidental, CA, 2008; $25), it is based in part on meticulous, decades-old drawings of actual root systems from many kinds of plants.

In support of the drawings and the theme, the book includes a mountain of trivia, to wit:
—Half or more of the total mass of many trees is below ground;
—Growing root tips (caps) produce their own lubricant that helps them force their way through the soil;
—About 90 percent of a tree’s roots typically grow in the top 18 inches of soil, and in some forest trees, half of that grows in the leaf litter above the soil surface (so keep your trees well mulched);
—Some trees send roots down 200 feet, and out many times the radius of the tree’s canopy.

You get the drift. Yet Kourik’s prupose isn’t to amaze you, but to instruct. To that end, the book is filled with practical tips for gardeners that are geared toward making the soil a better environment for roots. Along the way, Kourik necessarily covers composting, weed control, watering, no-till vegetable gardening, planting, and much more.

I recommend this as a standard reference.



Finding our Roots
Review by John Wages, Permaculture Activist

ROBERT KOURIK IS FAMILIAR to gardeners and probably to most permaculturists as the author of several books on edible landscaping, irrigation, pruning, no-dig gardening, and now roots. As I began to read Roots Demystified, I found myself wondering how deep he would go and just what he could say about roots that hasn't already been written. I was pleasantly surprised.... Read the whole review.



For this gardener, what's underground can't be ignored

By Pat Rubin -
Published 12:00 am PST Saturday, February 9, 2008

"You'll never look at trees, shrubs, even annuals and vegetables again without thinking about what's below the surface after reading Robert Kourik's new book, "Roots Demystified" (Metamorphic Press, $25, 165 pages).

Simply put, Kourik explains why the root of most gardening problems is, well, roots.

Who would have thought, for example, that a turnip's roots could insinuate themselves through 100 cubic feet of soil, that a cucumber taproot could grow an inch a day or that a year-old apple tree could produce as many as 17 million root hairs with a combined length of more than a mile?"... Read the entire review in PDF


More rave reviews:

As a guide to the function and importance of roots, the text of this book explains biological terminology in language that is easy to comprehend for even the most novice gardener. The author’s goals are to present the most recent researchers’ facts about root growth, clarifying misconceptions, and to provide practical information that assists the reader in becoming a better gardener. He relates the role that roots play in the successful culture of all plant life and how their growth affects soil  and other components below its surface. Illustrated with tables and detailed drawings reflecting [the] habit of root growth, this book is highly recommended for its excellent presentation of basic information, useful to gardeners.
~For the May 2008 issue of National Garden Clubs



Robert Kourik has done it again. He’s produced a garden book with a critical and unique focus: roots. After all, it is the mostly invisible roots that largely determine a plant’s success or failure. All the key plant groups are covered—lawns, trees & shrubs, vegetables, fruits, and so on—but from the perspective of what researchers have learned about their roots. This book will make anyone a better gardener. —Michael MacCaskey, Garden Editor/Writer, Burlington, Vermont


I saw my first root drawing in 1974, when I took a soils class while a student at the University of California at Berkeley. But, it didn’t really hit home with me until looking at a root drawing in 1982 while reading John Jeavons’ book, How To Grow More Vegetables. Robert has done an excellent job compiling all the research that has been done in the past twenty years to flesh out our knowledge of what plant roots do and how they grow. He has made very complicated information easily accessible and given practical information for gardeners to use in growing better plants. —Kate Burroughs, Co-owner, Harmony Farm Supply, Sebastopol, CA



Kourik’s book about the significance of roots comes from many years of physical labor in the fields, not in a classroom. Join that demanding and exhausting physical labor to his ability to combine observation and analysis and words, and you have a book more valuable to gardeners and diners and readers than any such book on the market, past or current. And the illustrations? As my teenage great grandson says: “I mean, like, they’re mind-blowing, man!” —Chester Aaron, Garlic Farmer/Author, Occidental, CA



I thought Robert Kourik had written the most useful book on ecological gardening when he wrote, …Your Edible Landscape—Naturally. Apparently, he had only scratched the surface. Now he’s written a new book, Roots Demystified/Change Your Gardening Habits to Help Roots Thrive. Robert has a rare gift for rendering complex scientific studies into a compost of humorous, fascinating environmental wisdom and easy-to-apply, in-the-dirt, hands-on knowledge. After you read Roots Demystified, every tree you plant will dig in and thrive for you. What Alex Haley taught us about how to value and nurture our metaphorical family tree, Robert has done for our actual family tree—the one in our backyard. —Sam Benowitz, Owner, Raintree Nursery, Morton, WA



Roots is an amazing look into the underground world of plants. After showing us a world that we knew little about Robert gives us practical ways to apply this knowledge to our daily horticultural activities. —Tom Bressan. Owner, The Urban Farmer Store, San Francisco, CA


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