The response of melon (Cucumis melo) plants to long-term salinity was investigated to determine the availability of the NaCl pre-treatments (seed priming + seedling conditioning) as an interesting strategy for increasing the salt tolerance. Seeds of melon cultivars "Hasanbey" and "Kirkagac" were primed with 18 dS m-1 NaCl solution for 3 days at 20°C. During emergence and seedling growth, non-primed seeds were irrigated with local irrigation water (EC: 0.3 dS m-1) whereas primed groups were treated with 9.0 dS m-1 saline solution for 35 days. Seedlings derived from pre-treated (P) and non-pre-treated (NP) groups were transplanted to 8 l pots. After transplanting, salinity treatments were started with the first irrigation. The salinity treatments consisted of five levels (control, 4.5, 9.0, 13.5 and 18.0 dS m-1) of irrigation solution for a period of 90 days. NaCl pre-treatments diminished the inhibiting effect of salinity on growth of melon plants. However, competence for salt adaptation varied with cultivar and the level of salinity. The physiological response of the P plants was also maintained in the long-term. Stomatal conductance and relative chlorophyll content of P plants tended to be higher than those of the NP ones. In addition, NaCl pre-treatments enhanced K and Ca concentrations of leaves and stems, and prevented toxic effects of salinity because less Na accumulated in stems. These results suggest that the use of NaCl pre-treatments could be a useful strategy to increase the salt tolerance of melon plants in the long-term and also to permit the establishment of melon crop by direct sowing in a saline medium. © 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.