Soil cadmium (Cd) contamination is a serious problem on agricultural land. Adequate nitrogen (N) may help ameliorate plant fitness under Cd stress. This study examined the role of N application in improving maize tolerance to Cd stress. Two maize genotypes, Zhongke11 (larger root system) and Shengrui999 (smaller root system), were grown in a loessal soil amended with Cd (Cd0, no added Cd; Cd1, 20 mg kg-1 soil as CdCl2·2.5 H2O) and N (N0, no added N; N1, 100 mg kg-1 soil as urea) under greenhouse, and plants were assessed at silking and maturity stages. Maize plants exhibited moderate Cd stress with significantly reduced grain yield, especially under low N (N1). Roots accumulated more Cd than above-ground parts. Grain Cd concentration was the least (0.05-0.06 μg g-1) among all organs which is below the safety threshold. Leaf Cd concentrations (0.24-1.18 mg kg-1) were also under the toxicity threshold. Nitrogen addition significantly improved plant growth, chlorophyll content, photosynthesis traits, and tissue Cd contents, and reduced Cd concentration in soil compared to N0 treatment. Nitrogen promoted Cd bioconcentration and translocation factors in stem and leaves. Cadmium stress reduced N fertilizer agronomic efficiency at maturity. At maturity, root Cd content was positively correlated with root N and calcium accumulation, and stem Cd content was positively correlated with stem N content (both P ≤ 0.05). Genotypes with different root system size differed in response to Cd toxicity and / or N deficit. The small-rooted genotype Shengrui999 was more tolerant to moderate Cd stress than the large-rooted Zhongke11. Addition of N ameliorated Cd stress in both maize genotypes by improving plant growth performance, and regulating Cd translocations among plant organs.