This study was undertaken to investigate genotypic differences of five maize cultivars in grain yield response to two different modes of deficit irrigation, conventional deficit irrigation and partial root zone irrigation. Three irrigation treatments were implemented: (1) FULL irrigation, the control treatment where plant water requirement, 100% Class-A pan evaporation, was fully met and the furrows on both sides of the plant rows were irrigated; (2) partial root zone irrigation (PRI), 35% deficit irrigation, compared to FULL treatment, was applied in every other furrow thus irrigating only one side of the plant rows. The furrows irrigated were alternated every irrigation; (3) conventional deficit irrigation (CDI), the same amount of water as PRI was applied in furrows on both sides of the plant rows, similar to FULL irrigation treatment. Five maize cultivars (P.31.G.98, P.3394, Rx:9292, Tector and Tietar) showing extreme growth response to water stress were selected out of ten cultivars tested with earlier completed greenhouse-pot experiment. A split-plot experimental design, comprising three irrigation treatments and five maize cultivars with four replicates, was used during two years of work, in 2005 and 2006. Total of nine irrigations, with one-week irrigation interval, were annually applied using a drip-irrigation system. Soil water status was monitored using a neutron moisture gauge, in addition to measuring leaf water potential and above-ground biomass production throughout the growing season. Grain yield and other yield attributes were measured at harvest as well as assessing differences in plant root distributions. Decrease in grain yield and harvest index of the tested cultivars, compared to FULL treatment, was proportionally less under PRI than CDI. Whether or not a significant yield advantage can be obtained under PRI compared to CDI showed significant (P < 0.05) genotypic variability. Tector and Tietar among the tested cultivars of maize showed significantly higher grain yield (P < 0.05) under PRI than CDI. The yield advantage of the genotypes (P.3394 and Tector) under PRI compared to CDI seems related to their enhanced root biomass developed under PRI. (c) 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.