Vegetated coastal ecosystems sequester carbon rapidly relative to terrestrial ecosystems. Coastal wetlands are poorly represented in land surface models, but work is underway to improve process-based, predictive modeling of these ecosystems. Here, we identify guiding questions, potential simulations, and data needs to make progress in improving representation of vegetation in terrestrial–aquatic interfaces, with a focus on coastal and estuarine ecosystems. We synthesize relevant plant traits and environmental controls on vegetation that influence carbon cycling in coastal ecosystems. We propose that models include separate plant functional types (PFTs) for mangroves, graminoid salt marshes, and succulent salt marshes to adequately represent the variation in aboveground and belowground productivity between common coastal wetland vegetation types. We also discuss the drivers and carbon storage consequences of shifts in dominant PFTs. We suggest several potential approaches to represent the diversity in vegetation tolerance and adaptations to fluctuations in salinity and water level, which drive key gradients in coastal wetland ecosystems. Finally, we discuss data needs for parameterizing and evaluating model implementations of coastal wetland vegetation types and function.