Abstract Background The plant circadian clock orchestrates 24-hour rhythms in internal physiological processes to coordinate these activities with daily and seasonal changes in the environment. The circadian clock has a profound impact on many aspects of plant growth and development, including biomass accumulation and flowering time. Despite recent advances in understanding the circadian system of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, the contribution of the circadian oscillator to important agronomic traits in Zea mays and other cereals remains poorly defined. To address this deficit, this study investigated the transcriptional landscape of the maize circadian system. Results Since transcriptional regulation is a fundamental aspect of circadian systems, genes exhibiting circadian expression were identified in the sequenced maize inbred B73. Of the over 13,000 transcripts examined, approximately 10 percent displayed circadian expression patterns. The majority of cycling genes had peak expression at subjective dawn and dusk, similar to other plant circadian systems. The maize circadian clock organized co-regulation of genes participating in fundamental physiological processes, including photosynthesis, carbohydrate metabolism, cell wall biogenesis, and phytohormone biosynthesis pathways. Conclusions Circadian regulation of the maize genome was widespread and key genes in several major metabolic pathways had circadian expression waveforms. The maize circadian clock coordinated transcription to be coincident with oncoming day or night, which was consistent with the circadian oscillator acting to prepare the plant for these major recurring environmental changes. These findings highlighted the multiple processes in maize plants under circadian regulation and, as a result, provided insight into the important contribution this regulatory system makes to agronomic traits in maize and potentially other C4 plant species.