Manipulation of stomatal density was investigated as a potential tool for enhancing drought tolerance or nutrient uptake. Drought tolerance and soil water retention were assessed using Arabidopsis epidermal patterning factor mutants manipulated to have increased or decreased stomatal density. Root nutrient uptake via mass flow was monitored under differing plant watering regimes using nitrogen-15 (15N) isotope and mass spectrometry. Plants with less than half of their normal complement of stomata, and correspondingly reduced levels of transpiration, conserve soil moisture and are highly drought tolerant but show little or no reduction in shoot nitrogen concentrations especially when water availability is restricted. By contrast, plants with over twice the normal density of stomata have a greater capacity for nitrogen uptake, except when water availability is restricted. We demonstrate the possibility of producing plants with reduced transpiration which have increased drought tolerance, with little or no loss of nutrient uptake. We demonstrate that increasing transpiration can enhance nutrient uptake when water is plentiful. © 2015 New Phytologist Trust.