Phaseolus vulgaris grown under various environmental conditions was used to assess long-term acclimatization of xylem structural characteristics and hydraulic properties. Conduit diameter tended to be reduced and ‘wood’ density (of ‘woody’ stems) increased under low moisture (‘dry’), increased soil porosity (‘porous soil’) and low phosphorus (‘low P’) treatments. Dry and low P had the largest percentage of small vessels. Dry, low light (‘shade’) and porous soil treatments decreased P50 (50% loss in conductivity) by 0.15–0.25 MPa (greater cavitation resistance) compared with ‘controls’. By contrast, low P increased P50 by 0.30 MPa (less cavitation resistance) compared with porous soil (the control for low P). Changes in cavitation resistance were independent of conduit diameter. By contrast, changes in cavitation resistance were correlated with wood density for the control, dry and porous soil treatments, but did not appear to be a function of wood density for the shade and low P treatments. In a separate experiment comparing control and porous soil plants, stem hydraulic conductivity (kh), specific conductivity (ks), leaf specific conductivity (LSC), total pot water loss, plant biomass and leaf area were all greater for control plants compared to porous soil plants. Porous soil plants, however, demonstrated higher midday stomatal conductance to water vapour (gs), apparently because they experienced proportionally less midday xylem cavitation.