Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25 is a Gram-negative bacterium that grows in close association with plants. In common with a broad range of functionally similar bacteria it plays an important role in the turnover of organic matter and certain isolates can promote plant growth. Despite its environmental significance, the causes of its ecological success are poorly understood. Here we describe the development and application of a simple promoter trapping strategy (IVET) to identify P. fluorescens SBW25 genes showing elevated levels of expression in the sugar beet rhizosphere. A total of 25 rhizosphere-induced (rhi) fusions are reported with predicted roles in nutrient acquisition, stress responses, biosynthesis of phytohormones and antibiotics. One rhi fusion is to wss, an operon encoding an acetylated cellulose polymer. A mutant carrying a defective wss locus was competitively compromised (relative to the wild type) in the rhizosphere and in the phyllosphere, but not in bulk soil. The rhizosphere-induced wss locus therefore contributes to the ecological performance of SBW25 in the plant environment and supports our conjecture that genes inactive in the laboratory environment, but active in the wild, are likely to be determinants of fitness in natural environments.