A series of experiments was conducted to investigate the response to drought stress of marigold (Tagetes patula L. `Janie Tangerine') plants grown with reduced phosphorus. Plants were grown with convention al phosphorus fertilization (1 mm, control) or one of two levels of alumina-buffered phosphorus (Al-P), 21 or 5 μm. Plants supplied with 21 μm Al-P produced plants with equal total dry weight, more flowers and reduced leaf area compared to control plants. Whole-plant photosynthetic CO2 assimilation expressed on a leaf area basis was nearly twice as high in 21 μm Al-P plants as in controls, probably as a result of reduced intraplant shading. In plants supplied with 21 μm Al-P, smaller leaf area resulted in reduced whole-plant transpiration. Moreover, the relative water content of the growing medium was significantly lower at wilting with 21 μm Al-P than for control or 5 μm Al-P regimes. The improved water acquisition with 21 μm Al-P could be explained by increased root proliferation via longer main roots and less densely distributed lateral roots. The results indicate that optimizing phosphorus nutrition with solid-phase buffered-phosphorus fertilizer improves drought tolerance by reducing transpiration and increasing water acquisition from the medium.