A foundational goal of trait‐based ecology, including trait‐based restoration, is to link specific traits to community assembly, biodiversity, and ecosystem function. Despite a growing awareness of the importance of belowground traits for ecological processes, a synthesis of how to root traits can inform restoration of terrestrial plant communities is lacking. We reviewed and summarized existing literature focused on root traits in relation to plant performance measures (i.e. survival, establishment, productivity) in the contexts of drought and competition (including invasion). Root traits related to belowground resource acquisition (e.g. high specific root length, deep roots) are frequently related to drought avoidance (i.e. a plant strategy based on optimizing water uptake to maintain function), whereas studies relating root traits to drought tolerance (i.e. a plant strategy that allows plants to withstand low hydration) remain limited. More studies have linked root traits to plant competitive effects (i.e. the influence of a plant has on neighbors) than to competitive responses (i.e. a plant's ability to resist the effects of neighbors). Because plants with acquisitive traits decrease resources to the detriment of neighbors, root traits associated with rapid resource acquisition (e.g. high specific root length) may be important for understanding competitive effects. Albeit more limited, research suggests root traits associated with resource conservation or stress tolerance (e.g. high root tissue density, high root diameter) may elucidate mechanisms related to competitive responses. Re‐vegetation outcomes may be improved by considering root traits, but only if clear links are made between traits and plant performance in varied contexts.