Plant root systems frequently permeate both natural and engineered soil slopes, influencing slope stability via mechanical reinforcement and soil drying. These root systems are often loaded by external forces during slope movements and when plant stems are subject to animal foraging or wind gusts. A series of physical model tests were conducted to examine how root geometries, root properties, and soil effective stress states affect the pullout capacity of simple unbranched model roots. Lengths of wood, rubber, and real roots were pulled from dry and partially saturated sand. The tests revealed the importance of the root to soil stiffness ratio during progressive failure, the mechanical properties of soil (and interfaces) at low effective stresses, the root diameter, and the tortuosity of the root material. Scaling issues due to shear banding are more important, and effective stresses under wet conditions are smaller than in conventional geotechnical practice because roots have a relatively small diameter (typically 10-4-10-1 m) and are at shallow depth (typically 0-2 m). After careful consideration of these effects, predictions were made for the pullout capacity of small root sections based on material data for willow roots (Salix viminalis) in sand.