Understanding the relationships between root zone soil moisture and vegetation spectral signals will enhance our ability to manage water resources and monitor drought-related stress in vegetation. In this article, the relationships between vegetation indices (VIs) and in situ soil moisture under maize and soybean canopies were analysed using close-range reflectance data acquired at a rainfed cropland site in the US Corn Belt. Because of the deep rooting depths of maize plants, maize-based VIs exhibited significant correlations with soil moisture at a depth of 100 cm (P < 0.01) and kept soil moisture memory for a long period of time (45 days). Among the VIs applied to maize, the chrolophyll red-edge index (CIred-edge) correlated best with the concurrent soil moisture at 100 cm depth (P < 0.01) for up to 20 day lag periods. The same index showed a significant correlation with soil moisture at a 50 cm depth for lag periods from 10 (P < 0.05) to 60 days (P < 0.01). VIs applied to soybean resulted in statistically significant correlations with soil moisture at the shallower 10 and 25 cm depths, and the correlation coefficients declined with increasing depths. As opposed to maize, soybean held a shorter soil moisture memory as the correlations for all VIs versus soil moisture at 10 cm depth were strongest for the 5 day lag period. Wide dynamic range VI and normalized difference VI performed better in characterizing soil moisture at the 10 and 25 cm depths under soybean canopies when compared with enhanced VI and CIred-edge.