Soil salinization is a global problem that causes huge losses in agricultural production. Salt can interfere with crop absorption and metabolism of nutrients and water, affect plant physiological responses and reduce plant biomass. Maize, a very important economic crop, can adapt to a certain degree of saline-alkali soil. It is essential to understand the physiological indexes of response to soil salinity concentrations and explore the effects of different nitrogen fertilizer treatments on maize growth. In this study, three soil salinity gradients (S1, S2 and S3 were with soil salt concentration, Ssc, of 0, 0.1% and 0.25%, respectively) and two nitrogen application rates (N0 and N1 were without and with nitrogen applied (13.2 g per pot), respectively) were set up. Plant growth and photosynthetic parameters were measured. Whether nitrogen was applied or not, with the increase in Ssc, leaf area, plant height, stem diameter, SPAD, leaf water potential, RuBP carboxylase, and PEP carboxylase activities, photosynthetic rate (A), stomatal conductance (gs
), the maximum stomatal conductance (gsmax
), and the stomatal morphological parameters such as stomatal width and maximum stomatal area (amax
), all showed a downward trend. Under the S1 and S2 treatments, compared with the N0, the N1 treatment alleviated the stress effect of the Ssc on these indicators. However, under S3 treatment, the stress degrees of leaf water potential, gs
, were aggravated after nitrogen application. This indicated that under the high Ssc of S3, the interaction between nitrogen application and soil salinity should be considered. WUEin
increased with the increase in Ssc. Moreover, under N1 treatments, the increase in WUEin
with Ssc was greater than that with N0. With the increase in Ssc, whether nitrogen was applied or not, the dry weight of maize declined by 44.2% and 73.0%, respectively, for the S2 and S3 treatments. Under S2 treatment, N1 significantly improved the dry matter mass of maize compared with the N0 treatment. The results showed that soil salt stress can inhibit crop growth, physiology and dry matter accumulation, and that nitrogen application can alleviate this within a specific salinity range. Such results indicate that in saline-alkali areas, whether nitrogen fertilizer is applied or not should depend on the level of Ssc to improve plant growth.