To determine whether root-to-shoot signalling of soil moisture heterogeneity depended on root distribution, wild-type (WT) and abscisic acid (ABA)-deficient (Az34) barley (Hordeum vulgare) plants were grown in split pots into which different numbers of seminal roots were inserted. After establishment, all plants received the same irrigation volumes, with one pot watered (w) and the other allowed to dry the soil (d), imposing three treatments (1 d : 3 w, 2 d : 2 w, 3 d : 1 w) that differed in the number of seminal roots exposed to drying soil. Root distribution did not affect leaf water relations and had no sustained effect on plant evapotranspiration (ET). In both genotypes, leaf elongation was less and leaf ABA concentrations were higher in plants with more roots in drying soil, with leaf ABA concentrations and water potentials 30% and 0.2 MPa higher, respectively, in WT plants. Whole-pot soil drying increased xylem ABA concentrations, but maximum values obtained when leaf growth had virtually ceased (100 nm in Az34, 330 nm in WT) had minimal effects (<40% leaf growth inhibition) when xylem supplied to detached shoots. Although ABA may not regulate leaf growth in vivo, genetic variation in foliar ABA concentration in the field may indicate different root distributions between upper (drier) and lower (wetter) soil layers.