The drought tolerance of the commercial apple (Malus domestica Borkh.) rootstocks M9, M26, M27 and MM111, and some new selections from the rootstock breeding programme at HRI-East Malling (AR69-7, AR295-6, AR360-19, AR486-1 and AR628-2), was assessed using potted, glasshouse-grown, unworked rootstocks. After an initial period of growth under well-watered conditions the amount of irrigation was gradually reduced, for some treatments, to simulate natural drying in the soil. At the end of a six-month growth period, the rootstocks were harvested and the production of dry matter and its partitioning to various plant parts determined. The rootstocks exhibited large differences in shoot and root dry matter, and root length but not all the rootstocks showed declines in root mass or length in response to the droughting treatment. The dwarfing rootstocks tended to have smaller amounts of both coarse (>2 mm diameter) and fine roots (<2 mm diameter), than the more vigorous rootstocks. Irrespective of rootstock or irrigation treatment there was a close linear relationship between coarse and fine root. There was also no change in the length/weight relationship for fine roots irrespective of rootstock or irrigation treatment, i.e. 42 m of fine root weighed 1 g dry weight. In some cases the amount of root produced could be directly correlated with the rootstock known potential to control scion vigour, but this was not true for all the rootstocks examined. The absence of this relationship was particularly evident in some of the new selections of rootstock. The possible causes for these differences, compared with commercially used rootstocks, is discussed in relation to the origin and parentage of the rootstock selections. Despite this lack of a root length/vigour relationship, the amount of dry matter partitioned to shoot growth reflected the rootstocks' known vigour. The different responses of these rootstocks to drought are discussed along with their implications for understanding the mechanisms by which rootstocks are thought to dwarf scion shoots.