Circadian clocks are signalling networks that enhance an organism's relationship with the rhythmic environment. The plant circadian clock modulates a wide range of physiological and biochemical events, such as stomatal and organ movements, photosynthesis and induction of flowering. Environmental signals regulate the phase and period of the plant circadian clock, which results in an approximate synchronization of clock outputs with external events. One of the consequences of circadian control is that stimuli of the same strength applied at different times of the day can result in responses of different intensities. This is known as 'gating'. Gating of a signal may allow plants to better process and react to the wide range and intensities of environmental signals to which they are constantly subjected. Light signalling, stomatal movements and low-temperature responses are examples of signalling pathways that are gated by the circadian clock. In this review, we describe the many levels at which the circadian clock interacts with responses to the environment. We discuss how environmental rhythms of temperature and light intensity entrain the circadian clock, how photoperiodism may be regulated by the relationship between environmental rhythms and the phasing of clock outputs, and how gating modulates the sensitivity of the clock and other responses to environmental and physiological signals. Finally, we describe evidence that the circadian clock can increase plant fitness.