This article presents a detailed model for the regulation of lateral root formation in Arabidopsis thaliana seedlings grown in culture. We demonstrate that direct contact between the aerial tissues and sucrose in the growth media is necessary and sufficient to promote emergence of lateral root primordia from the parent root. Mild osmotic stress is perceived by the root, which then sends an abscisic acid-dependent signal that causes a decrease in the permeability of aerial tissues; this reduces uptake of sucrose from the culture media, which leads to a repression of lateral root formation. Osmotic repression of lateral root formation in culture can be overcome by mutations that cause the cuticle of a plant's aerial tissues to become more permeable. Indeed, we report here that the previously described lateral root development2 mutant overcomes osmotic repression of lateral root formation because of a point mutation in Long Chain Acyl-CoA Synthetase2, a gene essential for cutin biosynthesis. Together, our findings (1) impact the interpretation of experiments that use Arabidopsis grown in culture to study root system architecture; (2) identify sucrose as an unexpected regulator of lateral root formation; (3) demonstrate mechanisms by which roots communicate information to aerial tissues and receive information in turn; and (4) provide insights into the regulatory pathways that allow plants to be developmentally plastic while preserving the essential balance between aboveground and belowground organs.