Leaves are flat determinate organs derived from indeterminate shoot apical meristems. The presence of a specific leaf meristem is debated, as anatomical features typical of meristems are not present in leaves. Here we demonstrate that multiple NGATHA (NGA) and CINCINNATA-class-TCP (CIN-TCP) transcription factors act redundantly, shortly after leaf initiation, to gradually restrict the activity of a leaf meristem in Arabidopsis thaliana to marginal and basal domains, and that their absence confers persistent marginal growth to leaves, cotyledons and floral organs. Following primordia initiation, the restriction of the broadly acting leaf meristem to the margins is mediated by the juxtaposition of adaxial and abaxial domains and maintained by WOX homeobox transcription factors, whereas other marginal elaboration genes are dispensable for its maintenance. This genetic framework parallels the morphogenetic program of shoot apical meristems and may represent a relic of an ancestral shoot system from which seed plant leaves evolved.