Soil salinity limits plant productivity and quality. We evaluated the response of 12 aspen (Populus tremula) families to salt stress in two different soils irrigated for 4-weeks with 0, 80 or 160 mM saline solution. Easily measurable characteristics such as shoot height, leaf number, dry mass as well as the distribution of sodium (Na+) ions were measured in 5-month-old aspen seedlings raised in controlled greenhouse conditions on two different soils. Growth among families varied significantly, and the interaction between family and soil type was significant. From 2–5 months, leaf number correlated with that of the first month and salinity tolerance. Sodium ions varied significantly within plants and among families; seedlings that accumulated higher Na+ concentrations in root had more leaves and lower Na+ in shoot. These results suggest that leaf number indicates salt tolerance in young seedlings. Seedling performance was also affected by soil type, especially the root/shoot ratio, suggesting an interaction between salt tolerance and growth medium. This study has identified significant intra-specific variation in salt tolerance of aspen in 160 mM saline and highlighted the potential to select and develop a method for efficient pre-screening of trees to be used in the reclamation of salt-affected land.