The preferential accumulation of vascular smooth muscle cells (vSMCs) on arteries versus veins during early development is a well-described phenomenon, but the molecular pathways underlying this polarization are not well understood. In zebrafish, the cxcr4a receptor (mammalian CXCR4) and its ligand cxcl12b (mammalian CXCL12) are both preferentially expressed on arteries at time points consistent with the arrival and differentiation of the first vSMCs during vascular development. We show that autocrine cxcl12b/cxcr4 activity leads to increased production of the vSMC chemoattractant ligand pdgfb by endothelial cells in vitro and increased expression of pdgfb by arteries of zebrafish and mice in vivo. Additionally, we demonstrate that expression of the blood flow-regulated transcription factor klf2a in primitive veins negatively regulates cxcr4/cxcl12 and pdgfb expression, restricting vSMC recruitment to the arterial vasculature. Together, this signalling axis leads to the differential acquisition of vSMCs at sites where klf2a expression is low and both cxcr4a and pdgfb are co-expressed, i.e. arteries during early development.