Plants have a remarkable potential for sustained (indeterminate) postembryonic growth. Following their specification in the early embryo, tissue-specific precursor cells first establish tissues and later maintain them postembryonically. The mechanisms underlying these processes are largely unknown. Here we define local control of oriented, periclinal cell division as the mechanism underlying both the establishment and maintenance of vascular tissue. We identify an auxin-regulated basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factor dimer as a critical regulator of vascular development. Due to a loss of periclinal divisions, vascular tissue gradually disappears in bHLH-deficient mutants; conversely, ectopic expression is sufficient for triggering periclinal divisions. We show that this dimer operates independently of tissue identity but is restricted to a small vascular domain by integrating overlapping transcription patterns of the interacting bHLH proteins. Our work reveals a common mechanism for tissue establishment and indeterminate vascular development and provides a conceptual framework for developmental control of local cell divisions.