The Budyko curve is an empirical relation among evapotranspiration, potential evapotranspiration and precipitation observed across a variety of landscapes and biomes around the world. Using data from more than three hundred catchments and a simple water balance model, the Budyko curve is inverted to explore the ecohydrological controls of the soil water balance. Comparing the results across catchments reveals that aboveground transpiration efficiency and belowground rooting structure have adapted to the dryness index and the phase lag between peak seasonal radiation and precipitation. The vertical and/or lateral extent of the rooting zone exhibits a maximum in semi-arid catchments or when peak radiation and precipitation are out of phase. This demonstrates plant strategies in Mediterranean climates in order to cope with water stress: the deeper rooting structure buffers the phase difference between precipitation and radiation. Results from this study can be used to constrain land-surface parameterizations in ungauged basins or general circulation models.