The subplate forms a transient circuit required for development of connections between the thalamus and the cerebral cortex. When subplate neurons are ablated, ocular dominance columns do not form in the visual cortex despite the robust presence of thalamic axons in layer 4. We show that subplate ablation also prevents formation of orientation columns. Visual responses are weak and poorly tuned to orientation. Furthermore, thalamocortical synaptic transmission fails to strengthen, whereas intracortical synapses are unaffected. Thus, subplate circuits are essential not only for the anatomical segregation of thalamic inputs but also for key steps in synaptic remodeling and maturation needed to establish the functional architecture of visual cortex.