A three-year continuous maize cropping study was conducted to compare the effect of different planting treatments on water use efficiency (WUE) and grain yield of maize in a semi-arid environment in the western Loess Plateau of China. The experiment was arranged in a randomized block design with three replicates. The treatments included flat-planting without mulching (NFM), flat-planting with half plastic film mulching (HFM), flat-planting with complete plastic film mulching (CFM) and furrow-planting with plastic film completely mulched narrow and wide alternative ridges (CFRM). CFRM treatment had a superimposition effect, increasing maize grain yield by 2282.9, 2460.2, and 2765.5 kg ha-1, with the increasing ratio of 32.3%, 49.8%, and 46.5%, compared with HFM treatment in the three continuous cropping years. In addition, the contribution rate to grain yield complete film mulching was 59.3%, 90.3%, and 20.9%, and by furrow-ridging culture was 40.7%, 9.7%, and 79.1%, respectively. The complete film mulching had greater contribution to yield than ridging and furrowing culture in the first and second years, and vice versa in the third year. The water use efficiency was the highest in CFRM treatment throughout the three years, with an incremental from 10.6% to 25.2%, in comparison to HFM. Under the same precipitation conditions, CFRM and CFM treatments had higher soil water storage before maize sowing than NFM, increasing from 6.3% to 15.1% and from 3.5% to 11.5%, respectively. However, CFRM and CFM treatments had lower soil water storage than NFM after maize harvest, with a decrease from 6.0% to 12.9% and from 4.7% to 12.9% in the second and third years, respectively. The soil water storage declined with continuous cropping of maize at harvesting stage in the second and third years, showing decrease of 37.1% and 44.0% for Soil water storage of CFRM, 35.5% and 37.1% for CFM, respectively. In particular, the soil desiccation phenomenon was appeared in 50 to 200 cm soil layer of CFRM treatment in the second year, and other treatments in the third year. In conclusion, CFRM is the best option for efficient water use and increasing grain yield, which is attributed to higher water demand, that leads to soil desiccation.