Tight control of cell proliferation is required to ensure normal tissue patterning and prevent cancer formation. The analysis of cultured cells has led to an explosion in our understanding of the molecules that trigger growth and mediate cell-cycle progression. However, the mechanism by which the local growth differentials that drive morphogenesis are established and maintained still remains unknown. Here we review recent work that reveals the importance of cell binding to the extracellular matrix, and associated changes in cell shape and cytoskeletal tension, to the spatial control of cell-cycle progression. These findings change the paradigm of cell-growth control, by placing our understanding of molecular signalling cascades in the context of the structural and mechanical complexity of living tissues.