- The Washington Times - Monday, February 20, 2012

The region’s roller-coaster temperatures might be wreaking havoc with wardrobe choices, but they’ve done nothing to hurt or confuse the pink-and-white blooms of D.C.’s beloved cherry trees.

The peak bloom time for the 1,678 trees around the Mall’s Tidal Basin will be announced March 1, the first day of what the National Weather Service predicts will be a warmer-than-normal month, a coda to an unseasonably mild winter.

The National Park Service’s rule of thumb is “unless it’s extreme and prolonged warm or cold weather, there’s nothing to worry about,” said Danielle Piacente, spokeswoman for the National Cherry Blossom Festival. “Once [the trees] start blooming is when the weather change really affects them. We should be OK for now.”

Weather Service meteorologist Matthew Kramar said Monday the long-range forecast for March shows temperatures “well above” the average highs and lows of 55.9 degrees and 37.6 degrees, respectively.

Though spring officially begins March 20, the temperature swings are not surprising for this time of year, Mr. Kramar said.

Pansies behind the Smithsonian Castle brighten the Mall on Monday, and cherry blossoms shouldn't be too far behind, thanks to a mild winter and forecast for a warm March. Peak season for the cherry blossoms will be announced March 1. (Barbara L. Salisbury/The Washington Times)
Pansies behind the Smithsonian Castle brighten the Mall on Monday, and cherry ... more >

“We’re seeing springlike patterns,” he said. “This type of temperature volatility is not unusual. This is something you might see in March or April. Spring is coming a little early, but that’s not atypical.”

The trees, a gift from Japan in 1912, have endured much worse, including a February 2010 storm with subfreezing temperatures and heavy snow that Park Service spokesman Bill Line said inflicted the most damage he’d seen in nearly a decade.

Branches as thick as 6 inches were split, and canopies were sheared off the tops of some trees, but the trees rebounded in time for the festival, March 20 to April 27 this centennial year.

They also survived 11 inches of snow that fell March 30, 2003.

Normally this time of year, the blossoms are still protected inside their green buds and remain there until early March.

Park Service horticulturist Robert DeFeo says the Yoshino cherry trees around the Tidal Basin bloomed as early as March 15 in 1990 and as late as April 18 in 1958, the result of unseasonably warm and cool temperatures.

Park Service planters are staying busy with the upcoming festival, and the same goes for the average gardener, said David Martin, assistant general manager for Johnson’s Florist and Garden Centers in the District.

Though some customers have been disappointed to find their local nursery isn’t on the same schedule as the weather, growers are pushing product early because of the mild winter.

“Pansies came in early,” he said. “Those usually come in the last week of February, and we’ve had them two weeks. People are wanting to get a kick-start on their lawn. They’ve started on weed preventatives and preventatives for crabgrass. It’s warm, and people who don’t necessarily want to be doing planting have been getting their gardens ready.”

Mr. Martin said people are also starting to get “seed fever,” and fortunately the gardening materials in stock are “very cold-hardy.”

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