Root border cells are cells that detach from the growing root cap, and serve both physical and biological roles in the rhizosphere. Most work on border cells has been confined to agar, or hydroponic culture, because of the difficulty in separating them from soil particles. We present a new method to separate the root border cells from soil, and quantify border cell numbers in non-sterile sandy loam soil at contrasting matric potentials (-20 and -300 kPa). Recovery rates of 90 ± 1% were achieved using a combination of surfactants, sonication, and centrifugation. Root border cell numbers in the dry soil (1.4 x 103 after 24 h) were significantly decreased as compared with those in the wetter soil (1.7 x 103 after 24 h). Possible reasons for the decreased release of border cells are discussed. (C) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.