Nitrogen availability and ontogeny both affect the relative growth rate (RGR) of plants. In this study of barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) we determined which growth parameters are affected by nitrate (N) availability, and whether these were confounded by differences in plant size, reflecting differences in growth. Plants were hydroponically grown on six different nitrate (N) concentrations for 28 days, and nine harvests were performed to assess the effect of N on growth parameters. Most growth parameters showed similar patterns of responses to N supply whether compared at common time points or common plant sizes. N had a significant effect on the biomass allocation: increasing N increased leaf mass ratio (LMR) and decreased root mass ratio (RMR). Specific leaf area (SLA) was not significantly affected by N. RGR increased with increasing N supply up to 1 mM, associated with increases in both LMR and net assimilation rate (NAR). Increases in N supply above 1 mM did not increase RGR as increases in LMR were offset by decreases in NAR. The high RGR at suboptimal N supply suggest a higher nitrogen use efficiency (biomass/N supply). The reasons for the homeostasis of growth under suboptimal N levels are discussed.