Background and Aims Root length density (RLD) is a parameter that is difficult to measure, but crucial to estimate water and nutrient uptake by plants. In this study a novel approach is presented to characterize the 3-D root length distribution by supplementing data of the 3-D distribution of root intersections with data of root length density from a limited number of soil cores. Methods The method was evaluated in a virtual experiment using the RootTyp model and a field experiment with cauliflower (Brassica oleracea L. botrytis) and leek (Allium porrum, L.). Results The virtual experiment shows that total root length and root length distribution can be accurately estimated using the novel approach. Implementation of the method in a field experiment was successful for characterizing the growth of the root distribution with time both for cauliflower and leek. In contrast with the virtual experiment, total root length could not be estimated based upon root intersection measurements in the field. Conclusions The novel method of combining root intersection data with root length density data from core samples is a powerful tool to supply root water uptake models with root system information.