unusual october

October usually throws some ridiculously warm and dry weather at us. This was the month that in 2003 and 2007 saw monster wildfires racing through the county, including the largest fire to hit California in recorded history (in 2003).

We’ve a few of those warmer days, but what’s been surprising has the the cool, wet foretaste of winter. Here’s a little example: This is my parking pass for work, where I usually go in to the office Mondays through Thursdays. Each big dark X corresponds to a day when it was too wet to ride my scooter in to work. Add to that another morning when I got a bad weather report and arrived pretty drenched.

Over the last two weeks it seems like half the mornings looked a little like this, with mist–or outright rain–turning the pavement wet.

Finally, the line of repurposed cat litter buckets that had looked so forlorn all summer at the drip edges of the roof were beginning to fill with water. In fact my two rain big barrels are now full, ready to have their contents shared back into the garden.

In response to the cooling trend plants are leafing out; seedlings are germinating. Readers not in mediterranean climates might think they’re reading a garden blog from the southern hemisphere. But no, this is California, which shares this wet-winter/dry-summer climate with less than 5% of the earth’s surface. To make up for being so special we’re treated with almost 20% of all the world’s plant species. More than a fair trade for long summer months with close to no water.

I was out in the front yard over the weekend, tidying up growth that had hit its expiration date. Mixed in with branches that had truly died were plenty belonging to drought-deciduous plants that were coming back to life. On the left is our local chaparral currant, Ribes indecorum, turning from brown twigs to leafy twigs. On the right is Verbena lilacina, a plant that can stay looking fairly green over the summer if you give it more water than I do.

Everywhere I stepped I had to avoid mashing tiny little buckwheat seedlings, or these guys, itty bitty little chia plants (Salvia columbariae). Early this summer when I took out the dead plants of this annual I made a point of shaking the seed heads over the dirt. Still I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough germination to repeat the amazing show of last spring. Looks like I didn’t need to be so concerned.

In the back yard seedlings of baby blue eyes were pushing their way through the mulch. The mulch really does help keep down the weeds, but this species fortunately doesn’t seem overly daunted by my attempt to save myself a few dozen hours of weeding. Various creatures do find these seedlings extra-tasty–including the cat, which seems to think these are almost as good as catnip. Once they’re larger the cat doesn’t seem to pay them any attention. I’m hoping for a nice half dozen or so survivors.

And there were even more seedlings. These are a few days away from showing their first true leaves, but I’m hoping that they’re the beginnings of clarkias that surrounded this patch of bare dirt. If not clarkias, they’re likely seedlings of this really noxious weed that shared the space with the clarkias. We’ll soon find out…

Yes, it’s been an unusual October. But I’ll take plants leafing out and seedlings pushing their way out of the ground any day over another round of brushfires!

5 thoughts on “unusual october”

  1. Hi,

    It sounds like we’ve had very similar weather recently… Only I’m in the UK, so perhaps it’s more typical of our climate… But for the past few years we’ve had excellent weather in September and October and even mild into November with the first real, hard frosts not arriving until December. Yet we’ve already had frosts, most odd. And September and October have been pretty much awful too.
    It feels like winter has hit already, completely bypassing Autumn.

    This Winter is going to be a long one.

  2. They say we share your Mediterranean climate but it’s with a bit of a twist (colder temps both summer and winter). I was out scooping water from the stock tank pond last weekend (lest it overflow) and dumping it on the ground. That’s when I realized the ground itself was saturated (the water I was dumping was pooling not draining)! And it’s only October. Yikes. That said I am grateful that we don’t endure the fires here…and I am glad you aren’t facing any currently.

  3. Good luck with the possibly Clarkia seedlings. I have lots of seedlings just sprouting too, including many I can’t identify.

    My cat is completely obsessed with eating plants of every size and shape, so if she ever dared to use the pet door and explore the outside world, I think she’d eat every single plant in the entire yard. Luckily, she’s terrified of the outdoors, so she merely sits indoors and reliably goes bonkers anytime I carry a plant or a piece of a plant (or even anything that smells like a plant, such as a glass of orange juice) through the house.

  4. Liz, I agree that this has been an oddball year here too. I’m sorry to hear of your seriously early frosts. I’m hoping that we have a respectable winter season here. The one thing I don’t like about California is that the winter days are too short to appreciate everything that’s happening outdoors in the garden.

    Loree, I can see your part of Oregon being labeled as similar to us in the south. Dry summers are one of the defining features, even more so than our mild winters. Like you it seems like the season has turned. Hopefully you’re not too drowned out as the fall progresses.

    Gayle, at least there are some patches where the clarkias will come back like they have in previous years. They’re just a little behind some of the other species. My cat seems terrified of an awful lot, like yours, but she does appreciate a morning basking in the sunshine. And if I get anywhere near the grass species she prefers, she’s right there, hoping I’ll give her a nibble…

  5. In terms of weather, this has been a really strange year. There was that oddball week of almost daily rain last week, and then we had about a 3-hour soaking earlier this morning. Remember those awful Santa Ana wind-fueled firestorms in October of ’07? Well I’m just glad we’re not revisiting that scenario this time around. Seems like there’s unseasonal greening just about everywhere due to our recent, untimely precipitation. My Ribes indecorum and Ribes speciosum (which I thought was as dead as a doorknob) have also recently sprung to life with a few new leaflets. Btw, your kitty is a cutie.

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