Diverse populations of aerobic endospore-forming bacteria occur in agricultural fields and may directly and indirectly contribute to crop productivity. This paper describes recent advances in our understanding of the ecology of Bacillus and Paenibacillus spp. and how different subpopulations of these two genera can promote crop health. The abundance, diversity, and distribution of native populations and inoculant strains in agricultural fields have been characterized using a variety of methods. While native populations of these two genera occur abundantly in most agricultural soils, plant tissues are differentially colonized by distinct subpopulations. Multiple Bacillus and Paenibacillus spp. can promote crop health in a variety of ways. Some populations suppress plant pathogens and pests by producing antibiotic metabolites, while others may directly stimulate plant host defenses prior to infection. Some strains can also stimulate nutrient uptake by plants, either by promoting rhizobial and mycorrhizal symbioses or by fixing atmospheric nitrogen directly. Despite a wealth of new information on the genetics and physiology of Bacillus and related species, a better understanding of the microbial ecology of these two genera must be developed. To this end, several important, but unanswered, questions related to the ecological significance and potential for managing the beneficial activities of these bacteria are discussed.