We assessed how the seasonal variability of precipitation δ; 2; H and δ; 18; O is propagated into soil and xylem waters of temperate trees, applied a hydrological model to estimate the residence time distribution of precipitation in the soil, and identified the temporal origin of water taken up by Picea abies and Fagus sylvatica over 4 yr. Residence times of precipitation in the soil varied between a few days and several months and increased with soil depth. On average, 50% of water consumed by trees throughout a year had precipitated during the growing season, while 40% had precipitated in the preceding winter or even earlier. Importantly, we detected subtle differences with respect to the temporal origin of water used by the two species. We conclude that both current precipitation and winter precipitation are important for the water supply of temperate trees and that winter precipitation could buffer negative impacts of spring or summer droughts. Our study additionally provides the means to obtain realistic estimates of source water δ; 2; H and δ; 18; O values for trees from precipitation isotope data, which is essential for improving model-based interpretations of δ; 18; O and δ; 2; H values in plants.