- A common patch form in dryland landscapes is the vegetation ring. Vegetation patch formation has recently been attributed to self-organization processes that act to increase the availability of water to vegetation patches under conditions of water scarcity. The view of ring formation as a water-limited process, however, has remained largely unexplored. Using laboratory experiments and model studies we identify two distinct mechanisms of ring formation. The first mechanism pertains to conditions of high infiltration contrast between vegetated and bare soil, under which overland water flow is intercepted at the patch periphery. The decreasing amount of water that the patch core receives as the patch expands, leads to central dieback and ring formation. The second mechanism pertains to plants with large lateral root zones, and involves central dieback and ring formation due to increasing water uptake by the newly recruited individuals at the patch periphery. In general the two mechanisms act in concert, but the relative importance of each mechanism depends on environmental conditions. We found that strong seasonal rainfall variability favors ring formation by the overland-flow mechanism, while a uniform rainfall regime favors ring formation by the water-uptake mechanism. Our results explain the formation of rings by fast-growing species with confined root zones in a dry-Mediterranean climate, such as Poa bulbosa . They also explain the formation of rings by slowly growing species with highly extended root zones, such as Larrea tridentata (Creosotebush).