What to Expect, When

Here's a timeline of what to expect from roughly a week before the peak bloom to about a week after.

How Long Do the Cherry Blossoms Stay Out?

So here’s the quick version . . . It’s impossible to say with 100% certainty how long the flowers will be out because so much depends on the weather. It can be as long as two weeks or as little as four to five days.

As the blossoms move past their prime, the flowers become more fragile. In cool, calm, and dry conditions they can hang around a week or even two. But because the flowers are becoming ever more fragile with each day, it also means they’re becoming more vulnerable to rain, wind, and storms, all of which can knock the petals off, and all of which are part the standard unsettled weather that the DC region sees in the spring.

The photo timeline below gives some visual idea of what you can expect in the days before, during, and after peak bloom.

There are several stages to the bloom of a cherry blossom tree, but the whole process is a constant state of transition and relatively brief. Once the flowers come out they typically last a week or two. Precisely how long the flowers stay out varies depending heavily on the weather. In hot, rainy, windy, and stormy weather they’ll go more quickly. In cool, calm, and dry conditions they hang around longer.

I get a lot of questions about how long DC’s cherry blossoms last and whether there’ll be anything to see on such-and-such date. So I’ve put together a photographic timeline of photos from previous years that illustrates the progression from about a week before the peak bloom to about a week after. The whole process is a transition, and it changes day to day.

There are some things to bear in mind in looking at this timeline of the bloom of a cherry blossom tree.

Firstly, these are not hard and fast rules. The trees will do as they please, and the blossoms react to the weather. There can very easily be variations either way by a day or two or more. So when it comes to predicting what will happen, the schedule below should be read with an implicit “approximately.” And to give some idea of the variation we might see, in 2006 the bloom lasted a weekend; in 2016 it lasted about a week. In 2018, they were still looking lovely 8 days after peak bloom but then disappeared within a couple of days of that when rain and wind arrived.

Secondly, the times here are relative to peak bloom. That’s the day when the NPS arborists look closely at the trees and judge that 70 percent of the blossoms have opened. We won’t know exactly when the peak bloom day is until it happens. And peak bloom is a specific day, so when you see forecast ranges like April 11-14, it means that the peak bloom date is expected to fall on one day in that range. What it doesn’t mean is that the peak bloom lasts for the entire period from April 11 to 14. You can find out much more in my post about what peak bloom means and why it matters. And you can find the latest 2017 peak bloom forecasts here.

Thirdly, while it’s remarkable how the trees bloom at roughly the same time, not every tree blooms at precisely the same time. One tree might start blooming while the one right next to it is still several days away. There can even be variations on different branches of the same tree. The process will start with some scattered trees getting a jump on the others. So even a week before it’s quite possible you might find some scattered trees starting to bloom. The process then accelerates as more and more trees join in. After the peak bloom, there are inevitably later bloomers that hang around a little longer than the others, but again, you might have to go hunting for them and their numbers will diminish the further from peak bloom we get. The blooming period can last a couple of weeks, or it can last just over a week.

The photos below were all taken in the past few years. As you can see, there’s some variation from year to year, but they should provide some idea of what to expect before, during, and after peak bloom.

Timelapse of Yoshino Japanese Cherry Blossoms Blooming

To give you an idea of what the process looks like speeded up many, many times, here’s a timelapse I shot of the flowers blooming. It captures about five days or so, through the peduncle elongation, puffy white, and peak bloom stages.

1 Week Before Peak Bloom

A week before the peak bloom, some scattered trees will likely start blooming. But it probably won’t be many and you’ll have to go looking for them. There’s one tree that reliably blooms about a week ahead of the others. It’s known as the indicator treehere’s how to find it. During this period, some of the other flowering trees will be coming out, such as the tulip magnolias and some of the other early flowering fruit blossoms.

5 to 3 Days Before Peak Bloom

During the period about 3 to 5 days before the peak bloom, it becomes much easier to find trees that have started to bloom, with more and more opening each day. But most of the trees are just starting to pop.

2 Days Before to 2 Days After Peak Bloom

From about 2 days before peak bloom to 2 days after is for all intents and purposes full bloom. It’s prime viewing time and the closest thing to a safe zone. The flowers start white and gradually turn pink. At the start of this period, not all the flowers will have opened yet.

The peak bloom day is when 70 percent of the flowers are determined to have opened. By the end of the period, the trees that bloomed early will have started to drop some petals.

3 to 5 Days After Peak Bloom

Roughly three to four days after the peak bloom date is the pivot point when the trees will go pretty quickly from what is essentially full bloom to the petals dropping off and getting replaced by green leaves. Precisely when it happens depends, as usual, on the weather. Storms, wind, rain, and high temperatures can all accelerate the process.

In a good year, the flowers can be looking absolutely splendid 3 days after the peak bloom. In other years they’re well on their way out. So this period can be touch-and-go insofar as what you’re likely to see.

+5 days in 2018.

+5 days in 2018.

+5 days in 2018.

6-7 Days After Peak Bloom

By now, it’s quite possible that the trees will still be looking lovely. Or they might be done, with the ground becoming covered in pink petals and the flowers being replaced by green leaves. But there is quite a lot of variation from year to year, and it is possible for there still to be plenty of blossoms to see even 6-7 days after peak bloom. You can see some examples of the the very different scenes from year to year in the photos below.

+7 days in 2018.

+7 days in 2016.

+7 days in 2016.

+7 days in 2018.

+7 days in 2018.

8 Days +

+8 days in 2016.

+8 days in 2016.

+10 days in 2015.

+10 days in 2015.

+10 days in 2017.

+10 days in 2017.

+10 days in 2017.

+10 days in 2017.

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 27, 2019

View Comments

  • Hi David,

    Heading to Washington for the weekend and have discovered your blog.

    You noted that the ‘peak’ was earlier this week... any advice for seeing them this weekend?

    Any areas around the tidal basin that might still be at peak? Or are the blooms still looking good most anywhere?

    • I've just posted some photos taken early this morning in the rain here. Tidal Basin is still a good bet, even if the trees are moving past their prime and the rain is knocking petals off.

    • Peak bloom is, by definition, the threshold when 70 percent of the blossoms are open. The NPS expects that to happen on Monday. So it will likely be less than 70 percent out on Sunday.

  • Hi David- Have followed you for years! Great information!!
    Question for you. Are there a different variety of cherry tree to be found around East Potomac Park, or anywhere in DC, that bloom slightly later than those surrounding the Tidal Basin? I’m doing a maternity shoot that isn’t supposed to be until the 7th or 8th (they are flying in), and I’m afraid the blooms will be gone by then. Appreciate any ideas!
    Also, can you drive or park at East Potomac Park at this time?
    Thanks!!!

    • There are certainly some that are lagging behind, but no particular spots come immediately to mind. I'll keep an eye out in coming days. For now, there's normal access to East Potomac Park, but I would expect the special traffic restrictions to be put in place this weekend.

  • Hello David!
    thanks for all the awesome information..I am actually going to come next week..1st time ever! to see these trees. I have a hotel & flight and all that so I am pumped.
    I have a couple questions, photographer to photographer:

    I know it's probably never possible to shoot scenes with no people in them..or is it?

    I'l be staying on Connecticut ave..at the Hilton...I figure its walking distance. so I could get there early am, or stay late evening..

    since bloom seems to be peak during the work week, will that impact crowd size?

    is there any time access is restricted around the mall? or is it an open public space... sorry haven't been there in ages....

    I would imagine there are other locations for tree viewing..do you have any favorites you'd like to share, maybe less popular?

    thank so much,
    Lori

    • Should be great timing!

      It is possible to get people-free shots, but it really depends when. If you're there during the main rush on a weekend during the peak bloom, it's very hard to avoid people--it's just plain crowded. Your odds increase markedly on weekdays and very early or very late.

      It's much less crowded during the work week.

      It's all open public space that you can access any time of the day or night. There are no gates or tickets required.

      There are several other locations that are good. I've put together some ideas here.

      • Hey! Of course we chose the 6th to visit and booked a hotel that we pay a fee to change and now I see they changed the peak to April 1st 🤦🏻‍♀️ Do you think we will be ok and still see some pretty full trees? Maybe crowds will be less?! Thank you

  • Hey would you choose the weekend before the predicted peak this weekend or after or the 6th next weekend? It looks like the weather may actually cooperate this year we never could make it last year!! Thank you 😊

    • As of right now, the odds look good that the peak bloom might fall during the work week next week sometime. It should warm up this weekend, which will bring out a lot more flowers. So they should be looking pretty both weekends. And yes, it's been very normal weather this year, and not nearly as exciting as some other recent years (in a good way!).

      • Thank you! If you don’t mind - We are taking the train from Richmond - what station should we get off at and what’s the best way to get where we need to be?

        • You will get off at Union Station, which is on the eastern end of the National Mall. The Tidal Basin is towards the other end of the Mall. It's quite possible to walk, but it's a longish walk (about 1.8 miles). The cheapest option is to take the Circulator Bus from Union Station to the Jefferson Memorial or MLK Memorial, both of which are on the Tidal Basin (the Circulator Bus is, as of a few days ago, now free). The closest Metro station is Smithsonian. L'Enfant Plaza is also quite close but on other lines. You can also get a taxi/Uber/Lyft. You can find more information on how to get there, here.

  • Hi, I know the peak bloom of this year is from 3-6 April but if I were to visit DC on the 12th which is almost a week after it bloom, do you think its worth the visit,(with the temperature and everything)? Since you seems to know a lot about the cherry blossom, I would like to hear your thoughts. Thank you so much!

    • It's really not possible to say for sure in advance. That because of two things. Firstly, when peak bloom actually happens. The current forecast is sometime during April 3-6. That may or may not end up being accurate, and if it falls on April 3 it will make quite a difference compared to April 6. That's because after the flowers reach full bloom they start becoming more fragile, and in that state they become particularly vulnerable to the weather. If it's cool, calm, and dry, they can hang around for as long as two weeks after the peak bloom date. If it's stormy, windy, warm, and rainy, that can all chase the blossoms off in as little as 4-5 days. And the weather here at this time of year can be a mixed bag--we could get all of those different conditions at various times. So the short version is that they might still be looking beautiful, but there is real risk that they won't be. For a visual sense of what to expect in the period after peak bloom, take a look at this visual timeline using photos from past years.

      I realize that doesn't really clear things up for you, but as with so much about the blossoms, it depends on the weather we end up having.

  • David, I was spacing out watching the time-lapse photos of the Yoshinos blooming. After they had all fully blossomed, I actually smelled cherry blossoms! How do you do that?

  • So if the Peak bloom is April 8-12 ... .which weekend should i come to have the best views of the trees ---- weekend of the 6th or weekend of the 13th?

    • I'm currently leaning towards the weekend of 7-8, but it really depends how much the cooler temperatures this week slow things down.

  • We travelling from 14th April to 29th April. Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima.
    Was hoping to at least have glimpse of the falls of Cherry Blossom.
    Is there any hope or am I being too hopeful? thanks. your guide is superb :)

    • Sorry, but this is focused specifically on Washington DC's cherry blossoms and I don't have any information on the bloom in Japan. Hope your timing is good, though!

  • Hello! We will be in DC from April 20th-24. What other flowers are blooming around that time?

    • well I guess airplane tickets are not suited to cherry blossom viewing. I picked the weekend of the 31st and the whole family is coming------historical peak bloosm is early april, and I know and believe in global warming so I picked the weekend earlier. I bet peak bloom is almost always going to be in mid-March now. Do any of you experienced cherry bloomers think there is is chance they will be there the weekend of the 31st?
      thanks!

    • Tulips are an April highlight. There are lots of good spots for them, including the US Capitol grounds to the Floral Library, the Netherlands Carillon. There are, of course, many others. Dumbarton Oaks, which is an absolutely beautiful area in the downtown area and well worth visiting, has a detailed list of average times various blooms come out. They also maintain a blog that covers what's blooming there. River Farm, nearby (and once owned by George Washington), also has a very wide variety of plants in a beautiful setting on the Potomac. I can't immediately find their 'what's blooming' section, but I seem to recall they had one somewhere on their site. And the National Arboretum is also definitely well worth visiting. You can find their guide to what's blooming here.

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