The in vitro response of sweet cherry (Prunus cerasus x P. canescens) rootstock Gisela 5 to increasing water deficit in the culture medium was studied. Water stress induced by the incorporation of 1, 2 and 4 % polyethylene glycol (PEG-8000) into the Murashige and Skoog medium was applied for 6 weeks. PEG-induced water stress reduced shoot dry mass, length, water content and relative chlorophyll content. Water stress also induced leaf necrosis without causing loss of viability in the explants. The increase in malondialdehyde content indicated oxidative stress. The activities of antioxidant enzymes, such as superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase (CAT), ascorbate peroxidase (APX), peroxidase (POX) and glutathione reductase (GR) were also significantly elevated. The concentrations of K, Ca, Fe and Mn of shoots were decreased.