Cherry Blossom Watch Update: March 17, 2016

The indicator tree is in full bloom, and there are handful of others that are just starting to pop. But the vast majority of the trees aren't flowering yet.

UPDATE: The NPS announced on March 18 that the buds had reached the “peduncle elongation” stage on March 17.

It’s another beautiful, sunny day down at the Tidal Basin. And more warm weather today should help things along before the cold arrives over the next few days.

Most of the trees aren’t flowering yet, but there are a small number of early starters getting a jump on things. The rest of the trees are mostly in the range from “extension of florets” to “puffy white”. The National Park Service determined that 70 percent of the trees reached the “extension of florets” stage on March 15. Moving to the next stage, “peduncle elongation,” is usually pretty quick, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they announce that we’ve reached that today or tomorrow.

Which Weekend Is Best To Visit?

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about whether this weekend or next would be best to visit.

The peak bloom might end up splitting the weekends, but the weekend of March 26-27 (Easter) is shaping up to be the better weekend to see cherry blossoms out. It’s also likely to be crowded–it’s Easter weekend and with many schools on spring break.

If the peak bloom comes midweek, Saturday is likely to offer better viewing simply because it’s closer to the peak bloom. The further you get away from peak bloom, the greater the risk of fewer flowers. This timeline illustrates what I mean. If the cold weather puts the brakes on enough for the peak bloom to be pushed back to Friday or Saturday, viewing should be excellent on both days of the weekend.

If you’d rather avoid weekend crowds, mid- to late-next week is also looking good.

Will I See Flowers if I Visit This Weekend (March 19-20)?

Yes, but you’ll have to look for them. The vast majority of the trees aren’t blooming yet, but there are a handful scattered around that have flowers. So if you want to find some, you can.

Around the Tidal Basin, the indicator tree is the safest bet (here’s how to find it). It’s in full bloom at the moment (see photos below). Unfortunately it’s not ideal to pose with for family photos or selfies because its branches are pretty high up.

I walked the full circuit of the Tidal Basin this morning and came across a handful of other cherry trees that are just starting to bloom. This morning there were very few, and so far each has only a very small number of flowers on it. More and more will come out in the coming days, and today’s warm weather should help coax even more out. There should be a few more flowers out on Sunday than Saturday simply because it’s a progression at this point.

There are also some cherry blossoms blooming along the Potomac (Ohio Drive). If you’re looking for some, there are a couple next to the boat landing near the FDR Memorial (here’s how to find it). I have some photos of them below.

If you’re planning to take some portrait photos and want flowers in the background, the tulip magnolias at the George Mason Memorial and behind the Korean War Veterans Memorial are looking magnificent.

Will Possible Snow Affect the Cherry Blossoms?

The short answer is that I don’t know. Current forecasts point to the potential for a little snow on Sunday. (Blame the people who jinxed it by putting away all their winter gear already!)

Snow itself shouldn’t be a problem, but the cold temperatures that come with it might be. The buds are vulnerable to frost, and forecasts are now calling for temperatures to dip below freezing Sunday and Monday.

UPDATE: Here’s a much more authoritative answer from the experts at the National Park Service, via the Washington Post. The gist is that there’s potential for a problem for the buds that are more advanced in their development–specifically, the ones that have reached the “peduncle elongation” stage–if a hard frost forms, but there’s no real way to predict if the conditions are going to end up being conducive to frost forming.

Photos From This Morning

Indicator Tree

The indicator tree, which typically blooms a week or so ahead of the others, is in full bloom right now. It has beautiful white flowers that will gradually turn more pink over the next few days.

Ohio Drive

There are several varieties of cherry trees in the area, and some bloom a little ahead of others. There are some along Ohio Drive on the banks of the Potomac that are blooming. These two were next to the boat landing.

Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

It’s back in business, and the ducks are loving it!

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 18, 2016 2:41 pm

View Comments

  • Hi, I am scheduled to be in DC March 29-31. Do you predict I will be too late to see any cherry blossoms? I sure hope not.

    Thank you,

    • It depends on how much the cold weather we're about to get puts the brakes on things. If we end up with peak bloom on, say, March 23, they're likely to be mostly gone by March 29, with the possibility of some stragglers still with flowers. If the peak bloom ends up being March 26, 27, or even 28, you could be in great shape. Regardless, the best chances are going to be earlier in your visit and will reduce as each day goes by. This timeline should help with a sense of what to expect in the days after peak bloom.

  • Excellent photos! I feel like I'm there already. Your updates are very helpful and much appreciated! Thank you!!!

  • Excellent work David. I am visiting the page everyday to see the updates.
    We are going to DC on Thursday 03/24 and will be there till 03/26.
    Do you think we get to see the bloom?
    Also is it just the weekend or even Friday would be crowded?

    • Those days are looking pretty good right now. Friday might be a little more crowded than your average weekday crowded because it's spring break for many schools and DC is a popular destination for spring break school trips, but it's a huge area and can take a lot of people before it becomes much of a problem for anything other than parking.

  • Thank you so much for the posts over the past few weeks! Admire the dedication...

    We booked our trip to visit this upcoming weekend just this past Sunday when peak bloom was pushed to the 18th, so kinda bummed that it got rescheduled to next week again. Hopefully we'll still be able to find some bloomed trees during while we're there this weekend.

    • There are a few out, even if they're in a very small minority for now. Warm weather today and tomorrow can only help move things along.

  • Thanks a lot for your update. Very appreciated to take time sharing beautiful photos. We're planning to go this weekend and hope to have more update

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