Temperatures in France set to plummet: protect your plants

Fruit trees that have already begun to flower are among the crops most at risk with frost and ice forecast across much of the country

You might wake up to a frosty April landscape on Wednesday
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Temperatures across France will plummet this week with frost and ice expected to cover vast swathes of France.

Although most of France will be affected – including the Mediterranean – the impact will be strongest in the east.

It is not only early commuters who will be disgruntled by the temperature change, as the dramatic shift could cause the loss of agricultural produce for farmers across the country – with up to 30% of blooming fruit trees being destroyed by the change.

Few parts of France will escape the cold

Once again, the weather in France has shifted dramatically.

It went from frosty patches at the start of last week in the south-west to highs of 30C, before storms and winds of more than 120km/h hit northern and western parts of the country.

Now temperatures could be as low as -6C overnight on Tuesday/Wednesday (April 4/5), with the majority of thermometers reading between 0C and -4C.

Daytime temperatures will rise above zero, but will still be colder than expected for the beginning of April.

The cold weather will persist until the end of the week in the east, but temperatures will return to milder levels across the rest of the country.

There are currently no weather warnings in place for dangerous weather.

Read more: Warm weather, drought and fires: why it may feel like summer in France

Worry for fruit producers

Whilst an extended period of April frost like last year is not expected - when records for cold spring weather were broken - there are still some concerns that the sudden cold switch could hit certain agricultural production.

Coupled with the early onset of heat from last week, the erratic shifts can make it difficult for crops to grow stably, with the dramatic shifts in temperature and environment leading to stunted production.

The good news, however, is that “vegetation is not as far ahead [in its growing cycle] as in the last two years, which means there is less damage to be feared [from the frost],” according to meteorologist Cyril Bonnefoy.

Although wine producers and ground crop farmers may need to take precautions to protect their crops, the main at-risk crop is fruit trees that have already begun to flower – namely cherry, apricot, plum and peach trees.

Losses of these crops from trees that are well into bloom could be up to 30%, according to agro-climatologist Serge Zaka.

How to protect fruit trees

Here is how to limit the damage:

  • Cut short any grass and weeds at the foot of trees. Longer grass will store cold and continue to spread this to the tree even after the freeze has finished.
  • Use anti-freeze candles to raise temperatures by up to 3C. These candles are normally bought in bulk by professionals, and can burn for up to 10 hours.
  • Resist the temptation to start a bonfire. Burning green waste is smoky, disruptive to neighbours, and makes you liable for fines of up to €450 from the mairie.
  • Cover strawberry plants with a garden fleece - plastic sheeting used to cover plants - to protect them from frost on cold nights. The fleece should be taken off as soon as temperatures rise as strawberry plants do not like to be covered.

French winemakers’ drastic action in 2021

This time two years ago, French winemakers lit fires around their vines to combat record low temperatures.

They lit hundreds of “crop candles” in a bid to increase the temperature around their crops.

The controlled fires can increase temperatures in the surrounding area by as much as 3C, but can cost up to €2,000-€3,000 per hectare.

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