Plant phenology research has gained increasing attention because of the sensitivity of phenology to climate change and its consequences for ecosystem function. Recent technological development has made it possible to gather invaluable data at a variety of spatial and ecological scales. Despite our ability to observe phenological change at multiple scales, the mechanistic basis of phenology is still not well understood. Integration of multiple disciplines, including ecology, evolutionary biology, climate science, and remote sensing, with long-term monitoring data across multiple spatial scales is needed to advance understanding of phenology. We review the mechanisms and major drivers of plant phenology, including temperature, photoperiod, and winter chilling, as well as other factors such as competition, resource limitation, and genetics. Shifts in plant phenology have significant consequences on ecosystem productivity, carbon cycling, competition, food webs, and other ecosystem functions and services. We summarize recent advances in observation techniques across multiple spatial scales, including digital repeat photography, other complementary optical measurements, and solar-induced fluorescence, to assess our capability to address the importance of these scale-dependent drivers. Then, we review phenology models as an important component of earth system modeling. We find that the lack of species-level knowledge and observation data leads to difficulties in the development of vegetation phenology models at ecosystem or community scales. Finally, we recommend further research to advance understanding of the mechanisms governing phenology and the standardization of phenology observation methods across networks. With the opportunity for “big data” collection for plant phenology, we envision a breakthrough in process-based phenology modeling.