Soil compaction may restrict shoot growth of sugar beet plants. Roots, however, are the plant organs directly exposed to soil compaction and should therefore be primarily affected. The aim of this study was to determine the influence of mechanical resistance and aeration of compacted soil on root and shoot growth and on phosphorus supply of sugar beet. For this purpose, a silt loam soil was adjusted to bulk densities of 1.30, 1.50 and 1.65 g cm-³ and water tensions of 300 and 60 hPa. Sugar beet was grown in a growth chamber under constant climatic conditions for 4 weeks. Both, decrease of water tension and increase of bulk density impeded root and shoot growth. In contrast, the P supply of the plants was differently affected. At the same air-filled pore volume, the P concentration of the shoot was reduced by a decrease of soil water tension, but not by an increase of bulk density. Both factors also reduced root length and root hair formation, however, in compacted soil the plants partly substituted for the reduction of root size by increasing the P uptake efficiency per unit of root. Shoot growth decreased when root growth was restricted. Both characteristics were closely related irrespective of the cause of root growth limitation by either compaction or water saturation. It is therefore concluded that shoot growth in both, the compacted and the wet soil, was regulated by root growth. The main factor impeding root growth in compacted soil was penetration resistance, not soil aeration.