Water availability is a major constraint for crop production in semiarid environments. The impact of tillage practices on water potential gradient, water transfer resistance, yield, and water use efficiency (WUEg
) of spring wheat was determined on the western Loess Plateau. Six tillage practices implemented in 2001 and their effects were determined in 2016 and 2017 including conventional tillage with no straw (T), no-till with straw cover (NTS), no-till with no straw (NT), conventional tillage with straw incorporated (TS), conventional tillage with plastic mulch (TP), and no-till with plastic mulch (NTP). No-till with straw cover, TP, and NTP significantly improved soil water potential at the seedling stage by 42, 47, and 57%, respectively; root water potential at the seedling stage by 34, 35, and 51%, respectively; leaf water potential at the seedling stage by 37, 48, and 42%, respectively; tillering stage by 21, 24, and 30%, respectively; jointing stage by 28, 32, and 36%, respectively; and flowering stage by 10, 26, and 16%, respectively, compared to T. These treatments also significantly reduced the soil–leaf water potential gradient at the 0–10 cm soil depth at the seedling stage by 35, 48, and 35%, respectively, and at the 30–50 cm soil depth at flowering by 62, 46, and 65%, respectively, compared to T. Thus, NTS, TP, and NTP reduced soil–leaf water transfer resistance and enhanced transpiration. Compared to T, the NTS, TP, and NTP practices increased biomass yield by 18, 36, and 40%; grain yield by 28, 22, and 24%; and WUEg
by 24, 26, and 24%, respectively. These results demonstrate that no-till with straw mulch and plastic mulching with either no-till or conventional tillage decrease the soil–leaf water potential gradient and soil–leaf water transfer resistance and enhance sustainable intensification of wheat production in semi-arid areas.