Cherry Blossom Watch Update: March 15, 2018

Progress has been brought to a crawl by the cool temperatures. If you look very closely, they are making headway, but it's very, very slow.

DC Cherry Blossoms in 2021

It seems increasingly likely that DC will still be under COVID-19 restrictions in spring 2021 while the cherry blossoms are blooming. So it's shaping up to be a good year to follow along from afar from the safety and comfort of your home.

Progress has been brought to a crawl by the cool temperatures. If you look very closely, the buds are making headway, but it’s very, very slow.

If you’re heading down to the Tidal Basin this weekend, I’ve got some suggestions below on where to go hunting for blossoms. I’ve also included updates on the magnolias and Reflecting Pool below.

The big news from the past few days is that the National Park Service and the Washington Post‘s Capital Weather Gang both pushed their peak bloom prediction dates back. The new dates are:

NPS: March 27 to 31
Washington Post: March 30 to April 3

While the buds got an early start back in February due to the warm temperatures, they’ve gotten stuck in the green buds stage longer than expected in these cooler temperatures we’ve been seeing. And what you can see on the trees isn’t matching what the NPS’s mathematical model is predicting.

As you can see from the photos below, some are ahead of others. There are a few flowers out on the indicator tree, but even it still isn’t in full bloom. Some other early bloomers are much further along than the others, but the majority are still stuck in the green buds or florets visible stages (that is, the first two of five development stages tracked by the National Park Service before actually blooming).

What Can I See This Weekend?

If you head down to the Tidal Basin this weekend, you won’t see many cherry blossoms. The vast majority of the trees still have some work to do and are in bud stages.

But if you want to see at least some cherry blossom flowers, here are some suggestions on where to look. The odds of seeing some are marginally better on Sunday simply because it allows them just a little extra time to do their thing and Sunday is expected to be a touch warmer.

  • Indicator Tree. This is a single tree that is consistently ahead of the others. It has some flowers on it already, but it’s not in full bloom yet. You can see some photos of how it looks this morning down below. It’s not the prettiest tree, and it’s a hard one to take photos of because its main branch is up quite high. But if you just want to glimpse some cherry blossoms, this is a sure thing even if there are relatively few flowers out on it yet. I have a guide to finding it here.
  • In Front of the FDR Memorial. There are some trees along the waterline directly in front of the FDR Memorial (about half way along) that are often early and are currently leading the pack. As of this morning, they’re not yet flowering, and while there aren’t any really warm temperatures expected in the next few days to push things along, there is some chance they might have a few flowers coming out later in the weekend. It’s at least worth a look.

And while they’re not cherry blossoms, I’d highly recommend a visit to the Enid A. Haupt Garden behind the Smithsonian Castle for the saucer magnolias. When they’re in full bloom they’re quite spectacular. They’re not in full bloom yet, but they’re expected to reach full bloom late this weekend or early next week.

Photos taken this Morning

Here’s a sense of how things look this morning.

The Japanese Pagoda.

The Welcome Area in the parking lot next to the paddle boats is being set up. It’s set to open on Saturday. There are information and gift shop tents, a few activities for kids, a performance stage, and food and drink tents.

Taken with a Sony a6000 with a 16-50 ƒ/3.5-5.6 lens at 16mm @ ISO 100 . 1/160 . ƒ/9.

This tree is one of the earlier ones (and has been in previous years too). It’s along the waterfront in front of the FDR Memorial.

In the days before and after the equinoxes with the sun rising directly in the east, on clear mornings like this morning it shines into the chamber of the Lincoln Memorial and directly onto the statue. Taken with a Sony Alpha a6000 with a 16-50 ƒ/3.5-5.6 lens at 31mm @ ISO 100 . 1/10 sec . ƒ/5.

Indicator Tree

There’s been only a little progress since Monday.


The magnolias have also been slowed down, and while they’re close, they’re not yet in full bloom. The horticulturalist at the Smithsonian Gardens expected the ones in the Enid A. Haupt Garden to reach full bloom late in the weekend or early next week.

Here are some shots from this morning of the ones at the George Mason Memorial next to the Tidal Basin.

Saucer magnolias at the George Mason Memorial.

Saucer magnolias at the George Mason Memorial.


The parking lot by the paddle boats is closed to parking to make way for the Welcome Area. It will remain closed for parking at least through April 1.

As of this morning, traffic flow around Ohio Drive and the area is normal. At some point soon the special one-way restrictions will be put in place, but I haven’t seen any sign of them setting up for that this coming weekend. They usually only do it when things get really busy close to the peak.

For Photographers

Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

It’s being refilled. Early this morning it was about half full. I’d expect to be full later today or tomorrow. The shot at the top of the page was taken this morning.

Also worth mentioning is that while the Lincoln Memorial remains open, the sides and back are barricaded off as they do repairs on the roof. You can still access the steps and the main chamber.

Gear Rental Deals

If you’re looking to rent some gear, there are some deals worth knowing about:

  • BorrowLenses has 15% off any rental. Use coupon code TAKE15OFF. Offer expires 3/12 and orders must be delivered/picked up by/on 3/19. They’re also offering 20% off a selection of popular gear (use coupon code 20FOR20 and only applies to these lenses and cameras. And they also have free shipping this week on orders over $99 with coupon code GETFREESHIPPING (Expires 3/19. Order Must be Picked up/Delivered by 3/23).
  • Lens Pro to Go currently has 15% to 25% off through March (must be delivered by March 30).

Locally, Ace Photo, District Camera, and f8 Rentals also offer rental gear, although their selections are often not as extensive as the big online places. And if you’re shooting video, DC Camera’s offerings have some interesting gear.

Sony Trade-In Offer at B&H Photo

Coinciding with the release of their new Sony A7III, Sony is putting an aggressive marketing push behind the other cameras in their Alpha range. That includes a trade-in deal where you can trade in your old non-Sony gear for one of their newer cameras (but not the brand-new A7III, it seems). You can get a quote immediately online as well as get a special trade-in bonus. You can find details at B&H Photo.

And stay tuned for my upcoming hands-on reviews of the brand new Sony A7III as well as the Sony A7RIII.

Last updated March 15, 2018

View Comments

  • I love all your pictures, but I'm especially impressed with the 11th one under Photos Taken This Morning. The one that has the Washington Monument through the opening on the left and the Jefferson Memorial through the opening on the right. I would really love to know what that piece is and where it is. I'd love to take pictures there.

    • That's taken at the small bridge near the George Mason Memorial. The bridge sides have round portals at about shin height. It's just using a wide-angle lens to incorporate two of the portals and then a small aperture to keep foreground and background in focus. If you do it at night or dawn, you'll need a tripod that you can set low without splaying the legs too wide--lots of people use that sidewalk and it's not very wide.

  • Thank you very much for taking the time to write this so well and comprehensively. I fly out of DC this evening and had been hoping to be lucky seeing some of the blossoms.... hmm. Good to have a tip about the magnolia instead and also loved the sunny Lincoln shot.