The soil moisture status near the land surface is a key determinant of vegetation productivity. The critical soil moisture content determines the transition from an energy-limited to a water-limited evapotranspiration regime. This study quantifies the critical soil moisture content by comparison of in situ soil moisture profile measurements of the Raam and Twente networks in the Netherlands, with two satellite-derived vegetation indices (near-infrared reflectance of terrestrial vegetation, NIRv, and vegetation optical depth, VOD) during the 2018 summer drought. The critical soil moisture content is obtained through a piece-wise linear correlation of the NIRv and VOD anomalies with soil moisture on different depths of the profile. This non-linear relation reflects the observation that negative soil moisture anomalies develop weeks before the first reduction in vegetation indices: 2–3 weeks in this case. Furthermore, the inferred critical soil moisture content was found to increase with observation depth, and this relationship is shown to be linear and distinctive per area, reflecting the tendency of roots to take up water from deeper layers when drought progresses. The relations of non-stressed towards water-stressed vegetation conditions on distinct depths are derived using remote sensing, enabling the parameterization of reduced evapotranspiration and its effect on gross primary productivity in models to study the impact of a drought on the carbon cycle.