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.

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.

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

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. Its known as the indicator tree--here'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

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

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

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.

6-7 Days After

By now most of the trees will be probably done, especially if there's been much in the way of wind or rain. But there is some 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 (as there was in 2015).

By now the ground is likely covered in pink petals, and the flowers are being replaced by green leaves.

By a week after, the show's pretty much over and it's time to look into alternative varieties like the Kwanzan cherry blossoms that bloom later or alternative sites around town.

Where to Stay for the Cherry Blossoms?

If you're visiting from out of town and looking for ideas on where to stay, I've put together some suggestions here.

Last updated April 10, 2018 12:17 pm

View Comments (73)

  • This is probably already been asked, and I apologize because I'm sure you answer the same questions on a daily basis; but when is a good time (time of day) to beat the crowds? I want to get good exposures with as little people as possible.

    • Hello! AMAZING site and information here! I'm planning to visit mid April during the Festival for the weekend. Will I be able to see the blooms at all or will that be too late?

      • It will be too late for the main cherry blossoms (Yoshinos), but there's a variety that blooms a couple of weeks later that you might catch. I have more about them here.

    • We cannot get to DC until 3/30, but next year we will have more flexibility. Will there be blossoms one week after peak bloom of 3/23?

      • If they end up meeting the peak bloom threshold on March 23--and that's a very big if at the moment--odds are against there being much left to see by the 30th, although there are usually some stragglers. But it's also quite possible that they might not reach peak bloom until a few days after that, in which case the chances improve quite a lot. For argument's sake, if the peak bloom ends up being March 27, they could still be in close to full bloom on the 30th.

        • I will be visiting Mar.30th this yr. 2017. Will the bloom season be over? Just wondering..................

          • Based on what we currently know, it's looking likely they'll be done before then. You might catch the Kwanzan cherry blossoms, which are also very pretty and bloom a bit later. More on them here.

            You can also follow the daily updates before then here.

    • Weekdays in the early morning are generally good. Tour buses tend to start rolling up after 9-10ish, and there'll be a lot of them next week with spring break school trips. And then it can stay pretty busy through the rest of the day. That said, it's a huge area that can absorb a large number of people, and it can also be surprisingly quiet on a weekday. These were taken on the actual peak bloom day last year, which fell on a Friday. As you can see in some of the shots, crowds weren't a problem. Compare that with the crowds there well before sunrise the next day and on the Sunday (the latter was even with the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler complicating things).

  • Your blog is a HUGE resource and is MUCH appreciated. I remember tuning in to your updates in 2014 as I am this year. No other site comes anywhere close to the extreme helpfulness and detail you provide free of charge. big THANK YOU!

  • This blog is amazing. I am trying to sign up for updates via email since I do not have facebook, but I only see the facebook option for how to get updates for next year. Is there anyway you can assist? I would really love to be able to see them and keep track for next year since I live in TX. Thanks!

  • HI. Thanks for the great information. We are from Canada and will only arrive in Washington on April 5th. Looks like we will miss the cherry blossoms. Any suggestions for other beautiful
    flowers we can see during our visit?

    • The tulips should be out then, which are all over the place downtown and along the George Washington Parkway and are highlights themselves. There are also a lot of other flowering plants in the area. Here are some ideas on places to catch them. It's also possible you might catch the start of the Kwanzan cherry blossoms--I have more on them here. Enjoy your visit!

  • Good morning,
    I am planning to visit around the week of April 11 to 14. Am I still able to see the cherry blossom?

    • The main ones will be long gone by then, but you might catch a variety that blooms a couple of weeks later. More information on them here.

  • Reading your detailed blogs & watching the weather reports for DC. Scheduled to be in DC on Sun. April 3rd, will there be any cherry blossoms to see? Thanks so much.

  • 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?

    • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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?