The early (2-4 d) effects of slowly imposed soil water deficit on Lupinus albus photosynthetic performance, carbon metabolism, and hormonal balance in different organs (leaf blade, stem stele, stem cortex, and root) were evaluated on 23-d-old plants (growth chamber assay). Our work shows that several metabolic adjustments occurred prior to alteration of the plant water status, implying that water deficit is perceived before the change in plant water status. The slow, progressive decline in soil water content started to be visible 3 d after withholding water (3 DAW). The earliest plant changes were associated with organ-specific metabolic responses (particularly in the leaves) and with leaf conductance and only later with plant water status and photosynthetic rate (4 DAW) or photosynthetic capacity (according to the Farquhar model; 6 DAW). Principal component analysis (PCA) of the physiological parameters, the carbohydrate and the hormone levels and their relative values, as well as leaf water-soluble metabolites full scan data (LC-MS/MS), showed separation of the different sampling dates. At 6 DAW classically described stress responses are observed, with plant water status, ABA level, and root hormonal balance contributing to the separation of these samples. Discrimination of earlier stress stages (3 and 4 DAW) is only achieved when the relative levels of indole-3-acetic acid (IAA), cytokinins (Cks), and carbon metabolism (glucose, sucrose, raffinose, and starch levels) are taken into account. Our working hypothesis is that, in addition to single responses (e.g. ABA increase), the combined alterations in hormone and carbohydrate levels play an important role in the stress response mechanism. Response to more advanced stress appears to be associated with a combination of cumulative changes, occurring in several plant organs. The carbohydrate and hormonal balance in the leaf (IAA to bioactive-Cks; soluble sugars to IAA and starch to IAA; relative abundances of the different soluble sugars) flag the initial responses to the slight decrease in soil water availability (10-15% decrease). Further alterations in sucrose to ABA and in raffinose to ABA relative values (in all organs) indicate that soil water availability continues to decrease. Such alterations when associated with changes in the root hormone balance indicate that the stress response is initiated. It is concluded that metabolic balance (e.g. IAA/bioactive Cks, carbohydrates/IAA, sucrose/ABA, raffinose/ABA, ABA/IAA) is relevant in triggering adjustment mechanisms.