Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms at the Tidal Basin
Pedal boats offer a unique vantage point for viewing the cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin. (Gerald Martineau/The Washington Post)
Robert DeFeo
Chief Horticulturalist, National Park Service
Friday, March 24, 2006; 11:30 AM

They're starting to. Watch: Time Lapse Photos

The cherry blossoms. Another year has passed and the annual ritual begins again.

Full Post Coverage: Cherry Blossom Guide

Robert DeFeo , chief horticulturalist at the National Park Service, was online Friday, March 24, at 11:30 a.m. ET to discuss everything you wanted to know about the cherry blossoms, the trees, the history and the activities in the nation's capital.

The Cherry Blossoms: National Park Service

A transcript follows.


Robert DeFeo: Thanks to this ice age we're experiencing the last week or so my original forecast for the blooms was correct. This year the blossoming period which could last 10-14 days will start this weekend with the peak begin sometime early next week, just as forecasted back in early March. Got lucky again.

To stay updated on the blooms go to the following Web site:

The Cherry Blossoms


An added feature this year is a link to a Web camera that gives live pictures of the Tidal Basin at any one time.


Leesburg, Va.: I can only get down to D.C. on the weekend, so do you recommend going this weekend (when it doesn't look like the trees have hit peak yet) or next weekend (when the trees might be past peak)?

Robert DeFeo: Next weekend and they will be beautiful. The 10-day forecast is for relatively normal temperatures with cool nights which will prolong the blooms so next weekend will be probably the best time to see them. They'll be a few days past peak which is 70 percent of the blossom open; next weekend 100 percent will be open. So it will be a great time to see them.


Washington, D.C.: Does the cold we're having help or hurt the cherry blossoms?

Robert DeFeo: The cooler temperatures are not cool enough to harm the blossoms. They are actually good from the perspective of the festival in that the opening of the cherries and their development through the blooming period is a biological process which is slowed down by cooler temperatures. Therefore, the cooler temperatures are going to prolong the blooming period and it looks like at this point we will have blossoms for the entire two-week period of the festival. The cool temperatures are just good news for the festival and all the visitors that will be coming in that two-week period.


Washington, D.C.: Are the tours offered by the Park Service free of charge?

Robert DeFeo: Yes. And you can find information on the numerous tours -- when they start and their locations -- at The Cherry Blossoms .


Washington, D.C.: I work during the week so I'd like to catch the blossoms this weekend. Where should I go? Last year I got cold early but enjoyed being down at the Tidal Basin.

Robert DeFeo: The entire Tidal Basin will have cherries in the early stages of bloom but a very nice location to see some of the early flowering cherries that will be open as well as the magnolias and other flowing bulbs and shrubs is the George Mason Memorial located between the Jefferson Memorial and the Inlet Bridge. It is one of my favorite locations to view the cherries and numerous other spring flowering plants.


Washington, D.C.: I'm a little confused -- the NPS Web site you gave still says that peak bloom will start this Sunday, March 26th -- are you now saying it will start a little later than that?

Robert DeFeo: The Web page has a forecast for the blooming period. This is when the blossoms start to open until the end where the blossoms fall off.

Within the blooming period is the peak bloom in which 70 percent of the blossoms will be open. The reason we have two periods is because in the past everyone tended to focus on the peak bloom date and if you're here on that day then it's great but it's just as enjoyable early in the bloom as well as near the end. Personally, my favorite time is at the end of the blooming period when the pedals of the blossoms start to fall off the tree. It's also the time when I can get back to my real job.


Denver, Colo.: Rats! It looks I'll just miss the peak time when I come out there. I arrive April 6th. Will there be anything left?

Robert DeFeo: Yes, you will see the blooms but you will be viewing them at the end of the blooming period. They will start to open around March 25 (tomorrow); the peak will be early to mid-next week and the blossoms can go 10-14 days provided the temperatures are cool and the 10-day forecast is for average temperatures during the day with cooler nights. This will prolong the blooming period and so there will be blossoms on the trees on April 6.


Dulles, Va.: What is the difference between the cherry blossom and the dogwood in length of bloom, size, etc.? I know that dogwoods are very slow to grow (I think they only grow 1 foot a year); is it the same with cherry blossoms? Do you have any recommendations as to which is the hardier tree? Thanks.

Robert DeFeo: The cherry tree has more tolerance to the stresses imposed on a tree in an urban environment. A dogwood in a front yard would be fine; however, a dogwood as a street tree would not be a good choice. The cherry is a more durable tree than the dogwood but in the context of trees, an American elm is a much more durable tree than the cherry. The horticulture knowledge base for tolerance to urban conditions by species is very well documented and any search on the Internet would provide information on various species and their tolerance to soil types, moisture and urban stress (i.e., tolerance to de-icing salts).


Herndon, Va.: Will the upcoming rain (I think the forecast is calling for rain today and tomorrow and Tues.) create problems for the blossoms at all?

Robert DeFeo: Not at all. Because early in the blooming period the individual petals are held tightly and are retained by the blossoms and the rain will have no impact whatsoever. But later in the blooming period when the individual petals will naturally abscise (shed) the rain and the wind can serve to knock the petals off and shorten the bloom period.


Bethesda, Md.: What type of trees/blossoms are in the Kenwood neighborhood, and do they bloom at exactly the same time as the ones around the Tidal Basin?

Robert DeFeo: The trees in the Kenwood section are Yoshino cherries, the same trees as around the Tidal Basin, and they bloom just a few days later because it's slightly warmer in the District than in the suburbs. The suburbs tend to experience slightly cooler temperatures than the city.


Washington, D.C.: The Yoshinos are pretty but my favorites are the Kansan. When will they be in peak bloom?

Robert DeFeo: I think you mean Kwansan. This is a different species (Prunus serrulata) and they bloom 10-14 days after the Yoshino cherries. They are also a double deep pink flower vs. the Yoshinos which have single white blossoms.


Washington, D.C.: Everytime I drive by the Tidal Basin, I appreciate what Japan did in donating the cherry blossoms to our city but I wonder why other countries didn't do the same. Are there other botanical gifts from other nations in Washington that you know of?

Robert DeFeo: On National Park Service lands no other donations of trees are as significant as the cherries. A few individual shade trees that grace our monuments and memorials have been donated but again, nothing like the magnitude of the cherries.


Washington, D.C.: I know I'm a grump, but the cherry blossoms turn me into several dwarfs (sneezy being most prominent). When will it all end this year?

Robert DeFeo: Around April 8 or 9.


Alexandria, Va.: We have visitors who are only in town this weekend to see the cherry blossoms. The blossoms don't seem to be blooming much downtown yet. Where's the best place in the D.C./Maryland/Virginia area to see them at their best this weekend?

Robert DeFeo: As stated in an earlier question, the best place is the George Mason Memorial located between the Jefferson Memorial and the Inlet Bridge just west of the 14th Street Bridge.


Robert DeFeo: Also, I suggest you take Metro and walk there vs. driving and trying to find a parking place. If you are driving, go very early in the morning (6-8 a.m.) before it gets crowded. It's gonna be a zoo.


Alexandria, Va.: Thank you for taking questions. I absolutely love the cherry blossoms. So much in fact that I really would like to grow one of the trees in my yard one day. Currently, I live in a condo. Is it possible to start a sapling in a large pot and then transplant it to the ground in a few years (if so which variety is most hearty), or am I better off waiting until I have a yard?

Robert DeFeo: Yes, but it would need to be a very large pot and I would suggest for a patio plant in a large container purchasing the Weeping Cherry (Prunes subhirtella var. pendula). A word of caution: Since the entire plant, including its root system, is above ground and could freeze solid during periods of extremely low temperatures (less than 20 degrees) protection may be necessary to protect from the cold.

It can be planted in the ground anytime but keep in mind the longer it is in the pot the more root-bound it will become. But you could get, depending upon the size of the pot, four to six years of enjoyment.


McLean, Va,: Other than the Tidal Basin, where could one go to see the cherry blossoms?

Robert DeFeo: All the cherries on National Park Service lands are located around the Tidal Basin, on the grounds of the Washington Monument and in East and West Potomac Parks.


Washington, D.C.: Is there any restaurant or bar, or basically anywhere to sit, to enjoy a view a of the cherry blossoms? Thanks!

Robert DeFeo: Not for the trees around the Tidal Basin but you can view the blossoms in East Potomac Park from the numerous bars and restaurants in the are known as the Waterfront along the Boundary Channel.


Washington, D.C.: I am going on a photography tour of the blossoms on Sunday -- will they be ready?

Robert DeFeo: Yes but as stated earlier, they will be in the early stages of bloom and will tend to have a pink hue to them. That will fade to pure white as the blossoms mature.


Robert DeFeo: Probably 30 - 40 percent of the blossoms will be open this weekend. Keep in mind, though, that on any given tree you will have blossoms that are open and blossoms and blossoms that are three to four days from opening. Not all the blossoms are in the same stage of bloom on any one given tree. It varies, generally with the south of the tree opening a little earlier than the north side of it and trees in the sun being slightly ahead of those in the shade.


Fairfax,, Va.: Is it against the law to pick a branch or twig off one of the trees?

Robert DeFeo: Absolutely. Picking the blossoms not only hurts the trees for this year but it also affects future blossoms as the cherries bloom on spurs which are removed when you pick a blossom off. If you are caught you will be ticketed. Basically it is destruction of a resource within a national park and it is against the law.


Robert DeFeo: I would like to close on that note. Please do not pick the blossoms or climb the trees as cherries are soft-barked trees and climbing them can cause irreversible damage.

Thank you for your questions and come down and enjoy the cherries. Best time is early in the morning. Enjoy the festival.


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