Cherry Blossom Watch Update: March 23, 2017

Some of them are blooming fully now. Most of them need a kick of warmth for them to catch up.

Some of the cherry blossoms are fully blooming now. Most of them need a kick of warmth for them catch up. But that’s on the way, and this weekend is shaping up to be cherry blossom primetime (and is likely to attract big crowds).

They seem to have taken last night’s cold temperatures in their stride, and if there’s any fresh damage it’s not obvious. (Besides, it would be very difficult to distinguish from the old damage.) The ones over by the FDR Memorial and Japanese Pagoda are looking especially good at the moment, with a high proportion of flowers out. Other patches around the Tidal Basin are trailing behind a bit.

The cold yesterday and today put the brakes on their progress, and there’s not much change today from yesterday. But with that last cold snap now out of the way it should be smooth sailing now. As temperatures climb they’ll get moving again with more flowers coming out over the next few days.

Yesterday afternoon the NPS said that 70 percent of the remaining Yoshino cherry blossoms had reached the puffy white stage, the last of the tracked stages before full bloom. (To be specific, that’s 70 percent of the surviving half, not 70 percent of the total.)

Overall, the trees are bouncing back remarkably well. There’s no question that the cold caused damage, and it’s very easy to find the after effects, especially up close. But from a very non-scientific perspective, they generally look much better than you might expect when you hear that 50 percent of them were wiped out. The fresh blossoms are to some extent masking the damage, and even some of the damaged blossoms are flowering.

So even if it’s probably not going to be a banner year for the cherry blossoms this year and they’re more dinged up than usual, they’re still going to be put on a beautiful spectacle.

So When are they Going to Bloom?

Some are fully blooming now. Most need some more warmth to bring them up to speed. Things are looking very good for the coming weekend.

Looking ahead to next week, there’s no hard and fast rule how long they stay out. Sometimes it’s a few days. Sometimes it’s a week or more. In general, cool, calm weather helps prolong the bloom; warm, rainy, and windy weather accelerates things as they head out. You can get a sense of the progression after the peak bloom from this photo timeline.

Because there’s an unusually wide spread of development this year, there are still trees that are lagging well behind the others. So it looks as though the bloom might be quite drawn out.

If you do miss the main ones (Yoshinos), there’s another variety that blooms around 2 to 3 weeks, the Kwanzan cherry blossoms. There are fewer of them, but they’re very pretty.

For First-Time Visitors

If you’re visiting for the first time, you’re in for a treat! The bloom is a stunning spectacle.

I’ve put together some posts that might help with the logistics.

I have information on where to find the cherry blossoms and how to get to them. On the weekend, almost any other mode of transport will be a better option than driving, but if you are going to drive I’ve put together some ideas for parking options

And as you wander around the Tidal Basin you’ll come across several monuments and landmarks. Here’s a quick guide to them.

And I’ve also put together some ideas if you’re bringing young kids to the cherry blossoms because there are some logistical and safety considerations to factor in.

Finally, please don’t pick the cherry blossoms or climb on the trees. Some of the old, gnarled ones (ie. the easiest to climb) are from the original planting over a century ago and are easily damaged. So as tempting as that selfie might be, please consider not climbing on the trees to get it.

For Photographers

Sunrise tomorrow is at 7:04AM and sunset at 7:24PM. Because it’s still close to the equinox, the sunrise and sunsets are lining up wonderfully with the monuments on the National Mall, which runs directly East-West. This photo from this morning on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial gives an idea of how it’s lining up.

And if you’ve been meaning to try out some near gear, BorrowLenses is currently running a 15% off promotion. If you’ve never used them or ones similar, they have a huge range of cameras, lenses, and other gear that you can rent. It’s a great way to try out gear before buying or to use something different. An example is a macro lens, which comes in very handy for cherry blossom photos.

If you want to see what they have available (they’re usually very good about quick shipping), here’s the link:

Using Drones

It’s also worth a reminder, especially for visitors, that the Tidal Basin is a no drone zone. That also applies to anywhere within a 30-mile radius, including, obviously, the monuments around the National Mall area. So as stunning as the photos or video from a drone could be, just don’t.

It’s highly protected airspace and the rules are vigorously enforced. Here are more details for why it’s both dangerous and inadvisable.

The Story So Far

If you’re just tuning in, here’s a quick recap of where we’re at.

It has been a topsy-turvy leadup to the bloom this year. A warmer than normal winter led into a very warm February. That brought the cherry blossoms to the verge of blooming around mid-March. It was even shaping up to be possibly the earliest on record.

Then an arctic blast hit (well, actually two, but the second, longer one was the most significant for the cherry blossoms–the saucer magnolias got wiped out in the first one). It slowed the development to a crawl. It also wiped out about half of the blossoms because it came right when many were at the stage just before blooming where they were at their most vulnerable. A snow and ice storm turned them into cherry blossom popsicles.

But we’re through that now, temperatures are (mostly) moderating, and we’re well on the way to a second attempt at the bloom over the next several days.

Cherry Blossom Watch Instagram Feed

I’ve started a new Cherry Blossom Watch Instagram account. I’ll often be able to post short updates there more quickly than on the website, so if you want to get a jump on the very latest updates, be sure to check it out.

You can follow it at @cherryblossomwatch.


Best Way to Get to the Cherry Blossoms?

There are many ways to get there. Most of them are better than driving, especially on a weekend around peak bloom. Here’s a rundown of the main options.

Parking for the Cherry Blossoms?

This is something I get asked a lot, so I’ve put together a dedicated page on the subject with some ideas. You can find it on the post titled, appropriately enough, Parking for the Cherry Blossoms.

Best Time to Avoid Crowds?

Weekdays are usually much less crowded than weekends.

Very early in the morning (around sunrise) is often the quietest (it’s all relative), with crowds building as the day goes on.

If crowds really aren’t your thing, the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin aren’t the only show in town. Here are some other places you can find cherry blossoms around town.

Maine Ave SW Parking Lot

It’s closed for the National Cherry Blossom Festival. There are currently tents, a stage, food tents, and activity areas in there.

Traffic Restrictions on Ohio Drive

The temporary traffic restrictions are now in place. Ohio Drive SW is now one-way, and the entrance to it from the Lincoln Memorial end is closed. To get to it you have to enter via Maine Ave SW and go around the Jefferson Memorial.

Photos from this Morning

Here’s how they’re looking as of this morning.

If you’re looking to take portraits with the cherry blossoms, these trees are an especially good option. They’re actually across the street from the main path and so it’s often a bit quieter. They have branches sweeping out over to the water that make an especially good backdrop, and it’s also a good spot to get the Washington Monument in the background if you want. To find them, head to the Japanese Lantern and cross the street at the crossing. They’ll be in your right, just near the foot of Kutz Bridge. They’re surrounding a small inlet of the Tidal Basin.

Last updated March 24, 2017