Abstract. Poplar (Populus sp.) plantations have been, on the one hand, broadly used in northern China for urban greening, combating desertification, as well as for paper and wood production. On the other hand, such plantations have been questioned occasionally for their possible negative impacts on water availability due to the higher water-use nature of poplar trees compared with other tree species in water-limited dryland regions. To further understand the acclimation of poplar species to semiarid environments and to evaluate the potential impacts of these plantations on the broader context of the region's water supply, we examine the variability of bulk resistance parameters and energy partitioning in a poplar (Populus euramericana cv. "74/76") plantation located in northern China over a 4-year period, encompassing both dry and wet conditions. The partitioning of available energy to latent heat flux (LE) decreased from 0.62 to 0.53 under mediated meteorological drought by irrigation applications. A concomitant increase in sensible heat flux (H) resulted in the increase of a Bowen ratio from 0.83 to 1.57. Partial correlation analysis indicated that surface resistance (Rs) normalized by leaf area index (LAI; Rs:LAI) increased by 50 % under drought conditions and was the dominant factor controlling the Bowen ratio. Furthermore, Rs was the main factor controlling LE during the growing season, even in wet years, as indicated by the decoupling coefficient ( = 0.45 and 0.39 in wet and dry years, respectively). Rs was also a major regulator of the LE / LEeq ratio, which decreased from 0.81 in wet years to 0.68 in dry years. All physiological and bioclimatological metrics indicated that the water demands of the poplar plantation were greater than the amount available through precipitation, highlighting the poor match of a water-intensive species like poplar for this water-limited region.