Coastal and inland dunes provide various ecosystem services that are related to groundwater, such as drinking water production and biodiversity. To manage groundwater in a sustainable manner, knowledge of actual evapotranspiration (ETa) for the various land covers in dunes is essential. Aiming at improving the parameterization of dune vegetation in hydrometeorological models, this study explores the magnitude of energy and water fluxes in an inland dune ecosystem in the Netherlands. Hydrometeorological measurements were used to parameterize the Penman–Monteith evapotranspiration model for four different surfaces: bare sand, moss, grass and heather. We found that the net longwave radiation (Rnl) was the largest energy flux for most surfaces during daytime. However, modeling this flux by a calibrated FAO-56 Rnl model for each surface and for hourly time steps was unsuccessful. Our Rnl model, with a novel submodel using solar elevation angle and air temperature to describe the diurnal pattern in radiative surface temperature, improved Rnl simulations considerably. Model simulations of evaporation from moss surfaces showed that the modulating effect of mosses on the water balance is species-dependent. We demonstrate that dense moss carpets (Campylopus introflexus) evaporate more (5 %, +14 mm) than bare sand (total of 258 mm in 2013), while more open-structured mosses (Hypnum cupressiforme) evaporate less (-30 %, -76 mm) than bare sand. Additionally, we found that a drought event in the summer of 2013 showed a pronounced delayed signal on lysimeter measurements of ETa for the grass and heather surfaces, respectively. Due to the desiccation of leaves after the drought event, and their feedback on the surface resistance, the potential evapotranspiration in the year 2013 dropped by 9 % (-37 mm) and 10 % (-61 mm) for the grass and heather surfaces, respectively, which subsequently led to lowered ETa of 8 % (-29 mm) and 7 % (-29 mm). These feedbacks are of importance for water resources, especially during a changing climate with an increasing number of drought days. Therefore, such feedbacks need to be integrated into a coupled plant physiological and hydrometeorological model to accurately simulate ETa. In addition, our study showed that groundwater recharge in dunes can be increased considerably by promoting moss vegetation, especially of open-structured moss species.