The very cold weather in February, with snow which persisted for ten days, caused widespread damage to olive trees all over Provence. Temperatures dropped to -12 and even -16, which is the limit for most olive trees, and stayed low for days. The tips of branches, main branches and in some places whole trees froze solid, but the damage wasn’t immediately obvious because the trees were dormant, unmoving.
So, as soon as the weather improved, the sap rose, the trees started to produce their new leaves, and the branches began to swell with the new season’s growth. And splits appeared (see photo).
A killing frost ‘ring-barks’ a branch, or trunk, separating the bark all round the branch entirely from the hard wood beneath. Some producers in the Var have been badly hit and lost many whole trees. We’ve been lucky, for a change. We haven’t lost any trees, but a couple of trees have needed a harsher pruning than might otherwise have been necessary, cutting the branches right back to a basic goblet shape, or ‘charpente’. We found quite a few small tips split so the February ‘cold snap’ seems to have been at the limit for our trees
Happily January wasn’t especially warm or the sap would have been rising already which leaves the tree very susceptible to a sudden freeze. The fact that there had been no rain at all since the downpours in November probably helped too. Had the trees been swollen with rainwater, the branches would have been solfter and more vulnerable. Our trees are exposed to wind in some places, which may have dispersed the freezing air, and others are protected under the cliffs behind the house. We noticed that some varieties – Cayon and Petit Ribier – had more splits than others, while some were very robust, like Bouteillan, Aglandau and Picholine.
Two of our bitter almonds were not so lucky. The trees were just pushing out their flower buds when the frost hit and both were killed stone dead. Two early cherries went the same way. We must look on the bright side: we’ll replace bitter, wild almonds with sweet cultivars.