Cherry Blossom Watch Update: March 3, 2017

A small handful of trees are starting to flower, but most of them still have some work to do. But the saucer magnolias are looking wonderful.

There’s been quite a lot happening in the past few days. The big news, of course, is that the National Park Service has announced their peak bloom prediction for 2017. They predict that it will be sometime between March 14 and 17. The earliest on record so far is March 15, which happened in 1990.

See below for other bits and pieces of news. First, though, a quick update on where things stand at the Tidal Basin.

It’s been quite cool and there’s a stiff, cold breeze. We even had a dusting of snow early this morning and some very light flurries even around lunchtime. So, for the past couple of days, at least, the temperatures have been much more normal for this time of year.

The vast majority of trees are not yet blooming and still have some work to do. While it’s perfectly normal for the trees to be at different stages–they’re not all on precisely the same schedule–the spread seems wider than normal this year. Some trees are not far from flowering; others are still in the green buds stage. Sometimes trees that are right next to each other are at opposite ends of the spectrum. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out for the bloom. It might be that we end up with an unusually drawn out flowering process this year.

But the good news: that if you head down anytime now you can find at least some cherry blossoms out. Go with muted expectations, of course. For now, it’s only a very small handful of trees—maybe half a dozen, at most, out of the thousands of trees in the surrounding area—but they’re there if you go looking for them.

The first tree flowering is the indicator tree, which has had flowers coming out for several days now. It’s blooming properly now. It’s not necessarily the most photogenic of the trees around the Tidal Basin–those are probably the grizzled old, original trees over the other side, near the FDR Memorial and MLK Memorial—and not ideal if you’re wanting to take selfies with the cherry blossoms, but you can at least say you saw some. I have some photos of it from this morning below, and there’s information on how to find it, along with a map, here.

Much prettier is a large tree over next to the FDR Memorial. You can see some photos of it from this morning below. It’s on the bend that juts out a bit into the Tidal Basin and has some nice low-hanging branches.

There are also a few trees of other varieties just a short distance away along the Potomac. Head over toward the John Ericsson National Memorial, on the Lincoln Memorial end of Ohio Drive SW. They also have some sweeping, low-hanging branches. The flowers are just starting to come out.

And the autumn-flowering trees around the base of the Washington Monument still have some flowers on them. There’s more on them here.

And finally, they’re not cherry blossoms, and it’s not the Tidal Basin, but the saucer magnolias in the Enid A. Haupf Gardens are looking absolutely spectacular. The photo from the top of the page was taken there this morning. There’s a couple more photos and information below.

Florets Visible

They’ve also judged that 70 percent of the trees have reached the florets visible stage. That’s the second of the six stages in the blooming process that they track.

National Cherry Blossom Festival Opening Date Moved Forward to March 15 (from March 20)

Because of the early bloom, the opening of the 2017 National Cherry Blossom Festival has been moved up to Wednesday, March 15 (originally March 20). It will still run through Sunday, April 16. In practical terms, this means that the Tidal Basin Welcome Area and ANA Performance Stage (both in the parking lot on the northeastern side of the Tidal Basin off Maine Ave SW) will open on March 15, earlier than originally planned. It also means that the Festival is looking for volunteers to help–you can find further details and sign up here.

Paddle Boat Reservations Now Open

If you’d like to reserve a paddle boat, you can now do so online. Payment is required up front to make the reservation, and only about a third of the boats are available for reservations; the rest are kept for walk-ups.

Here’s more information.

Common Questions

Now that that NPS has announced their peak bloom forecast, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about what it means for scheduling and travel planning. Here are some common questions and a quick stab at some answers.

Does it mean that we’ll only be able to see on those three days?

No. It means that the day on which they expect 70 percent of the flowers to be out will fall during that timeframe. You can expect flowers out for at least 5-7 days, often much longer. This photo timeline gives a sense of what to expect in the days before and after the peak bloom day.

Which weekend would be better?

A lot of people can only make it on a weekend, obviously. Since the peak bloom forecasts fall midweek, a number of people have been asking which weekend would be better, the 11th-12th or 18th-19th.

At this point, it looks like you’ll be able to find plenty of flowers on either weekend. It really depends on which specific day peak bloom falls in determining what there will be to see. And there’s always the chance that the peak bloom predictions will be revised.

There’s a pretty “safe” period of at least two days before peak bloom to two days after where you can be very confident that you’ll see the trees in all their flowering glory.

Most of the time, they last even longer. Last year, for instance, the trees were still looking wonderful five or six days after peak bloom. Here’s an example from five days after the peak bloom. But the previous year, there wasn’t much to see five days after peak bloom (take a look at these photos). That’s what makes it so hard to give a definite answer about which weekend.

The problem is that once you start getting three or more days after the peak bloom, the flowers tend to become more fragile and there’s more risk of petals being knocked off with wind or rain or storms. If the NPS’s peak bloom forecast pans out, I would expect the weekend of 18-19 to be excellent viewing. But it has to be qualified with at least some risk that the flowers might be well on their way out by then if the peak bloom ends up being at the beginning of their forecast range (ie. March 14) or even before.

On the weekend of 11-12 you can be very confident of seeing a lot of flowers, even if they haven’t yet reached peak bloom. After all, there are already trees flowering now, albeit very few. But more and more will come out between now and then.

You can also get a good sense of the kind of thing to expect in the days before and after peak bloom with this photo timeline I put together using photos from previous years.

Could frost cause problems?

With some cold temperatures forecast for the next couple of nights, several people have asked whether frost could present problem.

The answer is: potentially, yes. In the right (or wrong, if you will) mix of circumstances, it can damage or even halt the bloom. Frost hasn’t ever actually stopped Washington DC’s cherry blossoms from blooming—at least, not since records began being kept in the 1920s—but it remains a possibility.

It might even be more of an issue this year. One of the consequences of such an early bloom is that it’s still very possible for us to see frost. In this area, there’s still a good chance of frost all through March–in a normal year, anyway. And the weather forecast is calling for some very cold nights over the next few days.

If we do get frost, the effect that it has on the cherry blossoms depends on what stage they’re at. While they’re wrapped tight, it’s not much of an issue. But they’re now entering stages where they are vulnerable to frost and freezing. The best we can do is cross our fingers.

Photos from the Tidal Basin this Morning

This photo, the one immediately following, and the one closer to the top with the Washington Monument in the background, are from the tree that’s flowering next to the FDR Memorial.

Indicator Tree

It’s flowering properly now.

Enid A. Haupf Gardens

The saucer magnolias are looking gorgeous. It’s like stepping into a spring wonderland.

If the name doesn’t ring a bell, it’s the garden immediately behind the Smithsonian Castle, just down the National Mall.

If you’d rather not go that far from the Tidal Basin, the ones next to the George Mason Memorial are also now flowering and make for a beautiful backdrop for family portraits or engagement photos.

Last updated March 3, 2017

View Comments

  • David Thank you for the information. I have a friend in DC today with her family. She posted a tree that has nothing but green flowers on it. No leaves. What tree is that?

  • Hi. I heard those magnolia trees got crushed by the cold weather we had over the weekend. How or will it have any affects on cherry blossoms? Will it actually slow the blooming process to a few days later than the predicted 14-17th bloom date? I went to the tidal basin the other day, it seems like it has a long ways to go.


    • I haven't seen the magnolias over the weekend. That would be a real shame if so--they were looking spectacular on Friday. The cold/frost can also affect the cherry blossoms--more on that above. As for whether it will slow things down, the colder snap wasn't unexpected, so my working assumption is that it was built into both forecasts.

  • David,

    Greetings from Texas! My fiancee and I are traveling to D.C. for our engagement pictures. Our trip is planned for the week of March 20th. One of the locations we chose for our pictures is the National Cathedral and I read that there are also some cherry blossoms there. Do you have any idea if those will be blooming? or what location around the Tidal Basin do you recommend that has lots of cherry blossoms?

    Any information is greatly appreciated. Thank you!

    • There are clusters of cherry blossoms all over the region. There are different varieties, some of which are on slightly different schedules, but in general the timing of the different varieties around the Tidal Basin matches up pretty well with others around the area. Sometimes there's variations by a few days, but they're generally pretty similar. Here are some other locations around town worth considering. I haven't been by the National Cathedral recently, but would assume they're tracking much the same as the others.

      As for the Tidal Basin itself, once you're there it will be impossible to miss the trees--they're all the way around it. There are pretty trees on every side that work well for photos, but some of the oldest and most photogenic are over by the FDR Memorial and MLK Memorial.

  • Dear David,

    Thank you very much for your update information. It's very, very helpful for us, from California.

    We're so happy to be in Washington DC for the first time. This is one of our most desirable places to visit. And we are happy to make our dream comes true, to celebrate our 40th anniversary and my husband 65th birthday, together with our retirement celebration!

    We booked our trip in week 3/9 - 19/17, staying in Falls Church, VA. But we will have to leave DC on 3/16/17 to visit our relatives in Maryland.

    Could you please advise us the places and tours to enjoy the best of the beautiful cherry blossom and DC, during our time there (3/9 - 15/17)?

    Once again, thanh you very much for your very interesting information.

    Your time and kind assistance are greatly appreciated. ???



    • Glad it's useful!

      There's no requirement, as such, to book tours to see the cherry blossoms--they're in publicly accessible space around the Tidal Basin and you're free to wander and explore at your leisure. If you'd like to make your own self-guided walk, I've put together some basic information on the monuments you'll come across as you wander around the Tidal Basin. If you'd like to do an organized walking tour to find out more, I'd recommend starting with the free tours led by National Park Service rangers. From at least the 15th, when the Welcome Area is set up and open on one side of the Tidal Basin, you'll find signs with times and meeting points. There are likely to be NPS walking tours before the 15th as well--just looks for signs at the MLK Memorial and Jefferson Memorial. There are also commercial (ie. paid) walking tours offered, although I haven't tried any of them and have no specific recommendations. Boat tours are usually available, although with the bloom being so early this year I'm not sure if they've caught up with the rushed schedule. The boats don't go on the Tidal Basin itself but along the Potomac around Hains Point. More on them here. If paddle boats are your cup of tea, you can reserve one here (reservations aren't required—you can also just walk up). And since you're here for several days, you might be interested in some of the other locations around the area that feature beautiful flowers at this time of year like the National Arboretum and Dumbarton Oaks--the cherry blossoms aren't the only floral show in town. I've put together some ideas here. And, finally, here are some starting ideas for non-cherry blossom attractions nearby. Hope this helps. Enjoy your visit!

  • This was very informative. Thank you for helping us to plan our first trip to see the cherry blossoms!

    • You're welcome. Plenty more updates to come so you can track how they're doing. Enjoy your visit!

  • I'm going to be coming into town on the 24th, 9 days after peak bloom. Are there going to be any flowering trees, or am I out of luck?

    • About the most definite answer I can give is "maybe." It all depends on when exactly they reach peak bloom. The NPS estimates that it will be sometime between March 14 and 17. If it's on the 14th, there'll be less to see than if it's on the 17th. And either way, it's possible that there are still some lingering flowers to see--how long they stay out also depends on the weather.

      It's also just an estimate--it's quite possible that it might be revised as we see how the weather plays out. I have a photo timeline that gives some sense of what you might expect to see in the days after peak bloom.

  • Thank you so much for these updates. I planned a last minute trip to D.C. this year and found a surprisingly affordable flight based around these dates. Hopefully things will go according to plan. :) Your work is much appreciated!

  • Thank you so much for all the work you put into these updates.We put travel plans to visit DC and had hopes to to be there to see the Cheery blossoms and it looks like it going to work out just great.

  • Oh i love, love those cherry blossom's trees, as i'm in heaven surrounded by Angel's. Hoping they are still blooming by April. Thank you for the update.