Whole-plant approaches allow quantification of the temporal overlap between primary and secondary growth. If the amount of time available to grow is short, there may be a high temporal overlap between shoot growth and wood formation. We hypothesise that such overlap depends on the duration of the growing season and relates to wood anatomy. We evaluated wood anatomy, shoot longitudinal and radial growth rates, fine root production and the concentrations of non-structural carbohydrates (NSC) in the wood of six sub-shrub species growing in sites with contrasting climatic conditions (Lepidium subulatum, Linum suffruticosum, Salvia lavandulifolia, Satureja montana, Ononis fruticosa, Echinospartum horridum). Sub-shrub species living in sites with a short growing season displayed a high overlap between aboveground primary and secondary growth and formed wide vessels, whereas species from the warmest and driest sites presented the reverse characteristics. The highest overlap was linked to a rapid shoot extension and thickening through the enhanced hydraulic conductivity provided by wide vessels. The reductions in NSC concentrations when growth peaked were low or moderate, indicating that sub-shrubs accumulate NSC in excess, as do trees. The temporal overlap among primary and secondary growth in woody plants may be connected to the duration and rates of shoot and wood growth, which in turn depend on the vessel lumen area.