Mangroves are expanding into warm temperate-zone salt marsh communities in several locations globally. Although scientists have discovered that expansion might have modest effects on ecosystem functioning, water use characteristics have not been assessed relative to this transition. We measured early growing season sapflow (Js) and leaf transpiration (Tr) in Avicennia germinans at a latitudinal limit along the northern Gulf of Mexico (Louisiana, United States) under both flooded and drained states and used these data to scale vegetation water use responses in comparison with Spartina alterniflora. We discovered strong convergence when using either Js or Tr for determining individual tree water use, indicating tight connection between transpiration and xylem water movement in small Avicennia trees. When Tr data were combined with leaf area indices for the region with the use of three separate approaches, we determined that Avicennia stands use approximately 1·0–1·3 mm d–1 less water than Spartina marsh. Differences were only significant with the use of two of the three approaches, but are suggestive of net conservation of water as Avicennia expands into Spartina marshes at this location. Average Js for Avicennia trees was not influenced by flooding, but maximum Js was greater when sites were flooded. Avicennia and Spartina closest to open water (shoreline) used more water than interior locations of the same assemblages by an average of 1·3 mm d−1. Lower water use by Avicennia may indicate a greater overall resilience to drought relative to Spartina, such that aperiodic drought may interact with warmer winter temperatures to facilitate expansion of Avicennia in some years. Published 2012. This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.