Recent studies in the model plant Arabidopsis provide new insight into the regulation of root architecture, a key determinant of nutrient- and water-use efficiency in crops. Lateral root (LR) primordia originate from a subset of pericycle founder cells. Sophisticated mass-spectroscopy-based techniques have been used to map the sites of biosynthesis of auxin and its distribution in Arabidopsis seedlings, highlighting the importance of the phytohormone during LR initiation and emergence. Key components of the cell cycle and signal-transduction pathway(s) that promote and attenuate auxin-dependent LR initiation have recently been identified. Additional signals, such as abscisic acid and nitrate, also regulate LR emergence, raising intriguing questions about the cross-talk between their transduction pathways.