Stomatal behaviour of plants in drying soil can be regulated by (long distance) chemical signals that provide the shoot with some measure of water availability. Although much emphasis has been placed on the plant hormone abscisic acid (ABA) as a central component of the signalling process, soil drying will modify the delivery to the shoot of a range of potential chemical signals. Here we consider the role that changes in the xylem sap pH might play in determining the access that ABA has to sites of action on the guard cells. We also show how redistribution of inorganic ions between different compartments in the leaf (localized chemical signalling) can provide sensitive control of stomata and water loss in response to potentially damaging changes in leaf temperature. Partial root zone drying is an irrigation technique that has been developed to allow exploitation of the plant’s long distance signalling system. When the system is optimized, stomatal behaviour, shoot water status and leaf growth can be regulated such that water use efficiency (fruit yield/water used) can be significantly increased. We show how an understanding of the drought stress physiology of the whole plant can lead to substantial saving of irrigation water in agriculture.