Cherry Blossom Watch Update: March 22, 2016

More flowers are coming out, and it won't take much for them to starting popping en masse now that we're heading into warmer weather.

UPDATE: The NPS said during the afternoon that 70 percent of the cherry blossoms had reached the "puffy white" stage. That's the last stage before peak bloom.

It's not going to take much now to make the cherry blossoms really pop. There are noticeably more out since yesterday, although many of the trees haven't yet started. The winter blast didn't end up amounting to much and is now behind us. Warmer weather today through to the end of the week will have them coming out en masse over the next few days.

It was quite chilly this morning, but very pretty and still. Some high clouds caught the predawn light, and there were quite a few more people out this morning--a lot of them photographers and people getting portrait sessions done--to enjoy it. It's shaping up to be a really nice day, although a bit of a breeze is expected to pick up soon.

If you're driving in today through the rest of the bloom, the special traffic restrictions around Ohio Drive are now in place. Ohio Drive itself is still open to parking, but it's a one-way traffic flow running south to north. That also means that the entrances from the Lincoln Memorial end are closed off, so you'll need to enter the loop off Maine Ave and go by the Jefferson Memorial. It also means that if there are no spots along Ohio Drive you'll have to exit the loop and start again. If you don't want to risk doing the loop again, turn left at the George Mason Memorial (just after the Jefferson Memorial), and park in one of the lots under the 14th Street Bridge. If these street names don't mean anything to you, don't worry--just follow the signs and you can't go wrong. And a reminder that I have more details on how to get to the cherry blossoms here.

What Peak Bloom Does and Doesn't Mean

Now that we're getting closer to the peak bloom, I'm getting a lot of questions about which day to go to catch the peak bloom. So it's worth clarifying what "peak bloom" is and isn't.

While we end up referring to it a lot, "peak bloom" isn't the be-all and end-all of seeing a spectacular view. That is, you don't have to be there on that exact day to see the trees in full bloom. It simply means that the NPS experts have determined that on such-and-such date 70 percent of the trees are in full bloom. That, of course, also means that up to 30 percent are still yet to reach full bloom.

There's a window of about 2 days before to 2 days after the peak bloom day that I'd consider prime viewing. In the right conditions it can be longer, potentially a lot longer. At the beginning, the flowers start white; they gradually turn a pale pink. So if you don't happen to be there on the specific peak bloom date (and the NPS won't announce it until--or even after--it happens), it doesn't necessarily mean you're getting a lesser spectacle. In fact, I personally prefer how they look a couple of days after peak bloom when they're turning pink.

I have much more about what "peak bloom" does and doesn't mean here.

Will There Still be Flowers To See on X Date?

This is the question I'm getting most at the moment, understandably. And as much as I'd like to be able to give a flat "yes" or "no," it's impossible to give a definitive answer. That's because there are several factors that come into play that determine how long the flowers will stick around.

There's a window of about 2 days before to 2 days after peak bloom that I'd consider the safe zone. Outside of that, it varies year to year, but the general rule of thumb is that the risk increases for each day you move away from the peak bloom date.

As with nearly everything about the cherry blossoms, weather is a very big factor. If we have cool, still, and dry weather, the flowers can stick around longer. Perhaps maybe even a week or more. If we have warm, windy, rainy, or stormy weather--all of which are pretty common at this time of year--they can disappear much more quickly. Perhaps only 3-5 days after peak bloom.

Further complicating it is that the clock doesn't start ticking until we get to around peak bloom, which in this case serves as a useful reference point. And we won't know when that is until it happens. And yet another complication is that not every tree is on exactly the same schedule. Even after most of the trees are finished and have green leaves, there might well be some late stragglers.

I have a photo timeline that gives examples of the types of things you might expect to see in the days after peak bloom.

The upshot is that if you're visiting next week (say, March 28 to April 3), my answer as to whether you'll see any flowers is "maybe". The odds are best earlier in the period and reduce later in the week. I realize that's a pretty wishy washy answer, but it's about as good as is possible to give in advance. As a practical matter, if you are planning to visit, your best chances will be at the beginning of your visit rather than the end.

If you do miss the main bloom by a couple of weeks, your timing might be good for the Kwanzan cherries. They bloom a couple of weeks later. While there aren't as many of them, they're especially pretty. I have more information on them, including how to find some of the larger clusters, here.

You might also catch the tulips. While tulips aren't unique to this area, of course, there are an unusually large number of them in and near the National Mall, especially up around the grounds near the U.S. Capitol Building, near Memorial Bridge, along the George Washington Parkway, and at the Netherlands Carillon, and they are quite a highlight in their own right (here are some examples).

And the area has some other exceptional spots to catch spring flowers like the National Arboretum, River Farm, George Washington's Mount Vernon, and Dumbarton Oaks. Here are some other suggestions.

Photos From This Morning

These photos should give you a sense of what you can expect to see if you head down today. As you can see, there are still a lot of trees to pop. But the pace will start picking up again now, and even as it warms up today more and more flowers will keep coming out during the day.

FDR Memorial Water Features

They're partly back in business.

Want to Help Support DC's Cherry Trees?

If you'd like to help support the care and upkeep of the cherry trees around the Tidal Basin, the Trust for The National Mall has launched an Endow a Cherry Tree Campaign. Donations go to the official Cherry Tree Endowment, which will give the National Park Service additional resources to fund the care, maintenance, and possible replacement of the cherry trees. You can find more information here.

The Trust is dedicated to marshaling private support for maintaining and improving the history National Mall area. I'm not affiliated with the Trust--just an admirer of their efforts.

Last updated March 15, 2017 1:23 pm

View Comments

  • Hi David,
    Thanks for another great update! I have a question regarding parking at Ohio Drive. Is it called Parking Lot A - National Mall 971 Ohio Drive? We stay near Rosslyn station, so we can catch the metro to Tidal Basin, but if we can get there early in the morning 7am ish (Thursday & Friday), hope to get a parking nearby, paid parking is fine. Due to the road closure, which is the best way to get there: 1) via George Washington Memorial, 2) via Ohio Drive SW or 3) via VA 110 and I395N? This is our first time in DC. Many thanks

    • There are three small ones, called Lot A, Lot B, and Lot C. All are free. Here they are on a map. There are a few different ways you can get there from Rosslyn. At that time of morning, the rush hour traffic will be building on all of them. Probably the simplest is to get on 66 and go across the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge. You'll see the Kennedy Center on your left, but keep across to the farthest right lane and then, just at the end of the bridge, take the first exit to the right (it's partly obscured, so keep an eye out for it). That will take you under Memorial Bridge, curve to the left, and then along Independence Avenue past the Tidal Basin. Keep following that, in the right lane, and once you get about halfway around the Tidal Basin keep to the right and you'll curl around the Jefferson Memorial. In simpler words, once you get onto the Roosevelt Bridge you want to stay in the right lane and take the only right exits you're able to (the others are either blocked or one-way in the wrong direction, so you can't take them, obviously). Once you get past the Jefferson Memorial, take a left and those three lots are maybe a hundred yards further on your left. A different option from Rosslyn is to take the metro Blue line to Arlington Cemetery and then walk across Memorial Bridge.

  • Such lovely photos. Thank you so much for doing this each year! I'm headed down tomorrow to photograph and then Thurs sunrise before the winds start. What are your favorite places for afternoon/sunset light with the cherry blossoms? Best wishes, Jen

    • Right now, because we're not far out from the equinox and the sun is setting nearly due west, some of the best spots for sunset are on the stretch near the paddle boats and in front of the Maine Ave parking area. There are some wonderful old trees just to the east of the Jefferson Memorial, but they're shaded at sunset right now because they're tucked in a little behind the Jefferson Memorial.

  • I am taking engagement photos next Thursday (3/31) and I want to get some cherry blossoms in our photos, but also want to avoid the Tidal Basin crowds. I'm told there is a grove of cherry blossoms along the National Mall. Do you know where exactly these are located on the Mall?

    • There are quite a lot in the stretch between the Tidal Basin and the Washington Monument that are often less crowded. There are also at least a thousand or so all the way around Hains Point/East Potomac Park. Here are some other ideas.

  • Thanks for all the updates. This website is useful resource for those searching for cherry blossoms. 70% of the trees have reached the Puffy White stage, according to the NPS. I'm booked on a cherry blossom segway tour Friday, March 25. Can't wait.

  • I know this is not cherry blossom related but do you know if the full moon set will be visible before sunrise along the tidal basin on Thursday?

  • Hi David, I always enjoy reading your cherry blossom updates. I've been going to the Tidal Basin to catch sunrise. This morning, I did wonder if you were around. I would have loved to meet you personally. I actually remember some of the photographers featured on your photos in this post. I won't be able to go tomorrow but for sure on Thursday and Saturday. Hope we can meet up! All the best!

  • Hi David! I love reading your blossoms updates for the past couple of years! I'll be at the Tidal Basin early on Wednesday! I shoot with a Nikon D3200. How do you shoot such amazing photos, and do you recommend UV and Polarize lens filter? Hoping to bump into you to say hello!

    • That's a great camera--I shot with one quite extensively a while ago with plans to post a review of it, but it fell through the cracks. You'll get some wonderful shots with it. I used to use UV filters a lot more than I do now, but unless I'm specifically shooting a hazy landscape I don't tend to use them much anymore. They can be handy for protecting your lens, though. And polarizers can be great too, although I really only use them for specialized shots most of the time. At the Tidal Basin, at least, the reflections can often be a fun part of the photo--whether it's the sky, an overhanging branch, or one of the monuments, and polarizers will cut down that reflection. So while I have them on hand, I often don't find myself reaching for them except for very specific uses.

      • Oh my god tomorrow on 2 April I am going to cherry blossom I am exited from the pic that show w they still have a lot of flowers so anybody how is worried they can make it over there you are wrong it is never late so go enjoy the tomorrow and if you see today's update you will see how f pretty it is but not to late.

    • It's certainly going to be on the late end of things, but it's impossible to say whether there will still be some flowers left to see. It's possible there will be, but it's also possible they'll be all gone by then. The section above goes into more detail.

  • Hello. Is there still free parking at East Potomac Park? If I get there by nine on Saturday morning, will I miss traffic?

    • Yes, the parking is free around Ohio Drive, if you can find a spot. There will be a lot of competition for parking spots from before sunrise and lasting throughout the day and into the evening. It would be a good day to use an alternative method to get there.

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