Abstract Resprouting is an ancestral trait in angiosperms that confers resilience after perturbations. As climate change increases stress, resprouting vigor is declining in many forest regions, but the underlying mechanism is poorly understood. Resprouting in woody plants is thought to be primarily limited by the availability of non-structural carbohydrate reserves (NSC), but hydraulic limitations could also be important. We conducted a multifactorial experiment with two levels of light (ambient, 2–3% of ambient) and three levels of water stress (0, 50 and 80% losses of hydraulic conductivity, PLC) on two Mediterranean oaks (Quercus ilex and Q. faginea) under a rain-out shelter (n = 360). The proportion of resprouting individuals after canopy clipping declined markedly as PLC increased for both species. NSC concentrations affected the response of Q. ilex, the species with higher leaf construction costs, and its effect depended on the PLC. The growth of resprouting individuals was largely dependent on photosynthetic rates for both species, while stored NSC availability and hydraulic limitations played minor and non-significant roles, respectively. Contrary to conventional wisdom, our results indicate that resprouting in oaks may be primarily driven by complex interactions between hydraulics and carbon sources, whereas stored NSC play a significant but secondary role. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.