The study, consisting of two independent experiments, was conducted to evaluate the role of seed priming with ascorbic acid (AsA) in drought resistance of wheat. In the first experiment, seeds of wheat cultivars Mairaj-2008 and Lasani-2008 were either soaked in aerated water (hydropriming) for 10h or not soaked (control). In the second experiment, seeds of same wheat cultivars were soaked in aerated (2mm) AsA solution (osmopriming) or water (hydropriming) for 10h. In both experiments, seeds were sown in plastic pots (10kg) maintained at 70 % and 35 % of water-holding capacity designated as well watered and drought stressed, respectively. Both experiments were laid out in a completely randomized design with six replications. Drought caused delayed and erratic emergence and disturbed the plant water relations, chlorophyll contents and membranes because of oxidative damage; however, root length in cultivar Lasani-2008 was increased under drought. Hydropriming significantly improved the seedling emergence and early growth under drought and well-watered conditions; however, improvement was substantially higher from osmopriming with AsA. Similarly, osmopriming with AsA significantly improved the leaf emergence and elongation, leaf area, specific leaf area, chlorophyll contents, root length and seedling dry weight. Owing to increase in proline accumulation, phenolics and AsA, by seed priming with AsA, plant water status was improved with simultaneous decrease in oxidative damages. These improved the leaf emergence and elongation, and shoot and root growth under drought. However, there was no difference between the cultivars in this regard. In conclusion, osmopriming with AsA improved the drought resistance of wheat owing to proline accumulation and antioxidant action of AsA and phenolics, leading to tissue water maintenance, membrane stability, and better and uniform seedling stand and growth. © 2012 Blackwell Verlag GmbH.