Previous studies of pinyon-juniper woodlands show that Pinus edulis Engelm. makes better use of soil water from summer precipitation pulses than does co-occurring Juniperus osteosperma (Torr.) Little. To investigate the basis of this difference, we examined seasonal variation in cavitation and hydraulic conductance. Pinus edulis remained isohydric over the growing season. Minimum water potentials never fell below -2.3 MPa, and the extent of xylem cavitation remained near constant during the dry season. In contrast, J. osteosperma was anisohydric, reaching water potentials as low as -6.9 MPa, and experiencing progressively greater xylem cavitation as the dry season progressed despite having more cavitation-resistant xylem than P. edulis. We conducted an irrigation experiment to observe the responses of the study species to a summer pulse of water. Although sap flow increased in both species in response to the 25-mm irrigation pulse, only J. osteosperma responded to the 10-mm pulse. This was inconsistent with the response of P. edulis to light rain events and may have been due to a difference in the distribution of irrigation water and rain water between the under- and between-canopy areas. Whole-plant conductance increased following the 25-mm irrigation in P. edulis but remained constant in J. osteosperma. We hypothesized that this difference was caused, in part, by differential refilling of embolized xylem. Area specific hydraulic conductivity was 66% higher in roots of irrigated P. edulis trees relative to roots of control trees 3 days after the 25-mm irrigation (t = 2.14, P = 0.02, df = 16). There was no change in hydraulic conductivity of the roots of J. osteosperma or in the stems of either species. Our results indicate that the response to an irrigation pulse in P. edulis depended on cavitation avoidance in stems and the reversal of cavitation in roots, resulting in increased whole-plant conductance and water uptake. In contrast, J. osteosperma failed to exploit light summer rain events but was able to extract deep soil water at low water potentials.