Frost Protection and Mitigation

Understanding Frost Damage to Crops

Farmers understand the critical impact a few hours of frost can have during vital crop stages, potentially costing them an entire year’s worth of effort and profits. Overhead sprinkler systems offer an effective and economical solution to combat frost damage.

Close up of leeks growing in the garden in winter
rows of wheat sprouts covered with frozen frost

What is Frost and How Does it Harm Crops?

Protecting Crops from Frost

Frost occurs when ground-level temperatures drop below freezing (0°C). During a frost event, the water within plant cells freezes, causing water to be drawn out of surrounding cells and leading to tissue dehydration. This process results in the formation of sharp ice crystals, which damages tissues and causes cells to burst. If followed by a sunny morning, affected leaves can further suffer from oxidation and sunburn, exacerbating the damage.

Explore Frost Protection Solutions:

  • Sprinkler Systems
  • Wind Machines
  • Propane Burners
  • Smokers

Discover How Sprinkler Systems Work

Sprinkler systems are among the most popular methods of frost protection due to their effectiveness and cost-efficiency. During a radiation frost event, crops are continually sprayed with water above the canopy, which freezes. The freezing process releases latent heat, creating a microclimate that warms the air near the trees. For every 1 gram of water, 80 calories of energy are released. Additionally, a thin layer of ice forms on the leaves, continually melting and refreezing. This prevents water inside plant cells from freezing and maintains the air around the plants at a temperature just above freezing.

Frost protection systems should be activated when temperatures begin to fall below 2.5°C. The system should be shut down only in the morning after the frost event, once all ice on leaves and trees has melted.

Early morning frost on the ground between rows of dormant hibernating bare vines in winter

Spring Frost: A Threat to Fruit Trees

Spring frost, or radiation frost, poses a particularly severe threat to fruit trees. It occurs during springtime when clear, windless nights with low humidity and low temperatures create sub-zero conditions for extended periods. As the sun sets, heat radiates from the ground into the atmosphere. Under normal conditions, this heat protects trees from exposure to the low temperatures typical of spring. However, when there are no clouds to slow this heat loss or wind to mix air layers, a cold air layer forms close to the ground, causing surface temperatures to drop below freezing.

The damage from spring frosts can range from damaged crops and flowers to ruined fruit and even complete tree loss. It can have devastating consequences for farmers and the local economy. Fortunately, various methods exist to mitigate and control this threat.

Why Choose Sprinklers for Frost Protection?

Despite the counterintuitive notion of encasing sensitive plants in ice, sprinkler systems are highly effective in preventing or mitigating frost damage. They offer several benefits: