We have characterized the growth responses of Arabidopsis thaliana seedlings to water deficit. To manipulate the water potential, we developed a method whereby the nutrient-agar medium could be supplemented with polyethylene glycol (PEG 8000); PEG was introduced into gelled media by diffusion, which produced media with water potential as low as -1.6 MPa. For dark-grown plants, hypocotyl growth had a hyperbolic dependence on water potential, and was virtually stopped by -1 MPa. In contrast, primary root elongation was stimulated by moderate deficit and even at -1.6 MPa was not significantly less than the control. That these results did not depend on a direct effect of PEG was attested by obtaining indistinguishable results when a dialysis membrane impermeable to PEG was placed between the medium and the seedlings. For light-grown seedlings, moderate deficit also stimulated primary root elongation and severe deficit reduced elongation only partially. These changes in elongation were paralleled by changes in root system dry weight. At moderate deficit, lateral root elongation and initiation were unaffected and at higher stress levels both were inhibited. Primary root diameter increased steadily with time in well-watered controls and under water deficit increased transiently before stabilizing at a diameter that was inversely proportional to the deficit. Along with stimulated primary root elongation, moderate water deficit also stimulated the rate of cell production. Thus, A. thaliana responds to water deficit vigorously, which enhances its use as a model to uncover mechanisms underlying plant responses to water deficit.