- Soil surface sealing is a widespread natural process occurring frequently in bare soil areas between vegetation patches. The low hydraulic conductivity that characterizes the seal layer reduces both infiltration and evaporation fluxes from the soil, and thus has the potential to affect local vegetation water uptake (VWU). This effect is investigated here using experimental data, 2‐D physically based modeling, and a long‐term climatic data set from three dry sites presenting a climatic gradient in the Negev Desert, Israel. The Feddes VWU parameters for the dominant shrub at the study site (Sarcopoterium spinosum) were acquired using lysimeter experiments. The results indicate that during the season surface sealing could either increase or decrease VWU depending on initial soil water content, rainfall intensity, and the duration of the subsequent drying intervals. These factors have a marked effect on interannual variability of the seal layer effect on VWU, which on average was found to be 26% higher under sealed conditions than in the case of unsealed soil surfaces. The seal layer was found to reduce the period where the vegetation was under water stress by 31% compared with unsealed conditions. This effect was more pronounced for seasons with total rainfall depth higher than 10 cm/yr, and was affected by interseasonal climatic variability. These results shed light on the importance of surface sealing in dry environments and its contribution to the resilience of woody vegetation.