Throughout their life cycle, plants adjust their body plan to suit the environmental conditions in which they are growing. A good example of this is in the regulation of shoot branching. Axillary meristems laid down in each leaf formed from the primary shoot apical meristem can remain dormant, or activate to produce a branch. The decision whether to activate an axillary meristem involves the assessment of a wide range of external environmental, internal physiological and developmental factors. Much of this information is conveyed to the axillary meristem via a network of interacting hormonal signals that can integrate inputs from diverse sources, combining multiple local signals to generate a rich source of systemically transmitted information. Local interpretation of the information provides another layer of control, ensuring that appropriate decisions are made. Rapid progress in molecular biology is uncovering the component parts of this signalling network, and combining this with physiological studies and mathematical modelling will allow the operation of the system to be better understood.