Cherry Blossom Watch Update: March 19, 2018

There's not much new on the trees since yesterday, but I've been getting a lot of questions about things like how this week's weather forecast will affect things and how this coming weekend is shaping up. So I'm focusing below mostly on answering some of the most common questions.

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.

There’s not much new on the trees since yesterday, but I’ve been getting a lot of questions such as how this week’s weather forecast will affect the cherry blossoms and how this coming weekend is shaping up. So I’m focusing below mostly on answering some of the most common questions. You can also find below some photos of how the trees are looking this morning and some logistical updates if you’re coming from out of town.

But first, a quick update from the Tidal Basin. There’s not much change since yesterday. As usual, some trees are ahead of the others and with a few warm days would be close to popping. But there aren’t any warm days forecast in the next week or so to really give things a jolt, so it looks like it’s going to be more slow going for a while yet.

Most of the trees are in various bud stages and still have some work to do before blooming. If you really go hunting for them, you can find blossoms out now, but it’s only a tiny proportion.

Common Questions from Readers

Will the snow/rain/sleet affect the cherry blossoms? Will we have a repeat of last year?

I’m not expecting any real problems from the winter weather that’s about to hit us. It’s expected to bring sloppy conditions, with a mix of rain, sleet, and snow. What it’s not expected to bring is very cold air. And that’s important, because the cherry trees can handle rain and snow without much trouble. What can cause them trouble, as we saw last year, are very cold temperatures with sustained periods overnight in the teens or low 20s. None of the forecasts I’ve seen are calling for anything like that cold.

But even very cold temperatures don’t cause much trouble unless the buds are in a very specific stage of their development right before blooming. And only a tiny percentage of the buds are in that stage now.

So I don’t expect any real issues from the rain/sleet/snow expected this week. There is always some minor risk that heavy, wet snow might be too much for some of the old, fragile branches to bear, but that’s not a widespread issue, and the NPS cherry tree team do a great job with pruning and keeping the trees healthy.

But even if the air coming in isn’t cold enough to cause damage, it is cool enough to keep things moving at a glacial pace. So there’s unlikely to be much development on the trees over the coming week. Which leads us to next weekend…

How is it shaping up for this coming weekend (March 24-25)?

There’s a very small number of flowers out now–mainly on one specific tree (more on that below)–and there might be some more coming out by next weekend. But we’re talking about a small percentage, and with the cool temperatures expected through the rest of this week it doesn’t look like there’s going to be enough warmth to bring most of them out.

So if head down to the Tidal Basin this coming weekend, technically, yes, you’ll be able to find cherry blossoms out, but they’re likely to be few and far between. The odds are marginally better on Sunday than Saturday simply because it’s just that little bit of extra time for them to work with.

I’ll be posting more updates during the week which will give a clearer picture as we get closer to the weekend.

An alternative worth seeing is the blooming of the saucer magnolias in the garden behind the Smithsonian Castle. They come out a little earlier than the cherry blossoms and should be in full bloom sometime this week. They’re quite spectacular. You can see an example from last year here.

Also worth noting: because of the March for Our Lives rally on March 24, the official opening ceremony of the National Cherry Blossom Festival has been pushed back one day, to March 25.

How long do the cherry blossoms stay out?

They generally stay out a week or two, but it really depends on the weather, and spring in the DC can bring a mixed bag of conditions. Warm, rainy, windy, and stormy conditions hurry the cherry blossoms out more quickly. They hang around longer in cool, dry, calm conditions.

To give a visual sense of the variation, I’ve put together a photo timeline using recent past years to show what to expect, when.

Photos from this Morning

Here are some photos taken this morning to give a sense of how things are looking down at the Tidal Basin today.

Taken with a Nikon D810 with a Sigma 105mm ƒ/2.8 macro lens at ƒ/2.8.

Indicator Tree

More flowers are out on the indicator tree, but it’s still not quite in full bloom. Here’s how it’s looking this morning. If you’re heading down to the Tidal Basin, here’s how to find the indicator tree.

From a distance, you can see it amongst the other trees. But it’s not an especially pretty tree and its branches are high, making it a challenge to photograph.


If you’re coming in this week from out of town, there are two major things to be aware of. The first is the winter weather closing in over the next few days. That might create some travel delays Tuesday and/or Wednesday (with possible flow-on issues for flights coming from harder-hit areas in the northeast).

Secondly, the March for Our Lives rally will be in the downtown area on Saturday. Organizers are planning for up to 500,000. Actual turnout might be lower or even higher than that. Either way, you can expect heavy competition for hotel rooms, crowded public transport, possible street closures in parts of downtown, and generally a large number of people out and about.

The Welcome Area is open for business. It’s in the parking lot next to the paddle boats, and you can find information and gift shop tents, portajohns, and food and drink tents as well as an entertainment stage. That also means that that parking lot is closed for parking (and will be through at least April 1).

And on the subject of parking, if you haven’t been down there for a while, it’s worth knowing that much of street parking in the surrounding area (and around the National Mall, for that matter) has been converted to metered parking. That includes the stretch of Ohio Drive near the Tidal Basin as well as lots A, B, and C under the 14th Street Bridge. You can pay at the meter stands or by using the ParkMobile app. I have more detailed information on parking here.

The traffic flow along Ohio Drive is normal for now. When things get busier close to the bloom they usually implement a one-way traffic flow.

For Photographers

Equinox Sunrise

Clear sunrises might be a bit scarce in the coming week, but we’re coming up on the equinox, so the sun is rising pretty much directly east. That creates an opportunity for lining up the sunrise from the Lincoln Memorial with the Reflecting Pool and Washington Monument. It also shines directly into the chamber of the Lincoln Memorial an onto the statue; you can see an example at the top of yesterday’s update.

Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

After briefly being drained a couple of weeks ago, the Reflecting Pool is full again.

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.

FDR Memorial Water Features

Some, but not all, of the FDR Memorial’s water features are back in action.

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, both of which will be posted on my main site

Last updated March 19, 2018

View Comments

  • Greetings, I would like to see cherry trees that bloom before the Yoshinos on the tidal basin. Do any varieties typically bloom beforehand? Do any of the trees along East Potomac Park come out ahead of the tidal basin? Thanks.

    • While there are several different varieties, most of the ones around the Tidal Basin and East Potomac Park area come out at roughly the same time, give or take. So it's hard to point to a specific variety to look for. That said, even within those varieties, some trees are just naturally ahead of the others. As you can see in the latest update, for example, some are starting to pop a few flowers, while others are still in the early bud stages. There are also quite a few other types of flowering fruit trees in the area, some of which come out earlier. They're scattered all over. And the real stars are the magnolias, which come out earlier. There are some of those over near the George Mason Memorial (next to the Tidal Basin), but the best collection nearby is in the garden behind the Smithsonian.

    • I don't know at what temperatures they become vulnerable--they certainly went quickly last year (much quicker than the cherry blossoms)--but I'd recommend keeping an eye on the Instagram account of the Smithsonian Gardens for updates on them. You can find it here.

  • The cherry blossoms might be ok this year, because thankfully they haven't reached the peduncle elongation phase yet. However, the saucer magnolias in the Enid Haupt Garden were unfolding and if we reach that forecasted 25°F temperature on Thursday, all the flowers will be destroyed just like last year and we won't get to see a full bloom. I wish the climate change issues were receiving more attention because Magnolias have some of the most magnificent flowers on earth, and spring can't become hit or miss in the general indifference.

    • Climate change - because the peak bloom is now in line with historic records? Washington DC cherry trees are blooming about two days later than they did 30 years ago, when CO2 was below 350 PPM. Please enjoy the beautiful trees without pushing junk science.

      • what gives you the right to be directly aggressive to me? I am not talking to you but only expressing my opinion and observations from the heart, and your imperatives and rude condescending tone are out of place. I enjoy whatever I want and your opinion is not more valid than mine. Besides, just wait and see. I don't need any junk science. February this year was warmer than March. Do you find that normal? Growing up I never experiences such weather patterns, such violent and frequent storms and winds.

  • I was wondering if you have any idea when the Kwanzan will blossom this year. Thanks a lot!

    • They typically bloom right after the Yoshinos. Usually mid April. But since the weather has become more unpredictable, it varies

    • I haven't heard any predictions yet but will see what I can find out. The average is around 15 days later, although it can vary quite a bit.