Water use by plants in landscapes with shallow saline groundwater may lead to the accumulation of salt in the root zone. We examined the accumulation of Na+ and Cl− around the roots of the halophyte Atriplex nummularia Lindl. and the impacts of this increasing salinity for stomatal conductance, water use and growth. Plants were grown in columns filled with a sand–clay mixture and connected at the bottom to reservoirs containing 20, 200 or 400 mM NaCl. At 21 d, Na+ and Cl− concentrations in the soil solution were affected by the salinity of the groundwater, height above the water table and the root fresh mass density at various soil depths (P < 0.001). However, by day 35, the groundwater salinity and height above the water table remained significant factors, but the root fresh mass density was no longer significant. Regression of data from the 200 and 400 mM NaCl treatments showed that the rate of Na+ accumulation in the soil increased until the Na+ concentration reached ~250 mM within the root zone; subsequent decreases in accumulation were associated with decreases in stomatal conductance. Salinization of the soil solution therefore had a feedback effect on further salinization within the root zone.