The National Park Service's lead horticulturists predict when the cherry blossom trees will be in peak bloom. News4's Tom Sherwood reports.
"Whoever picked the dates [of the festival], picked them perfectly," said Rob DeFeo of the National Park Service on Thursday.
The cherry blossoms' blooming period will correspond with the first dates of the festival, with the peak between March 24 and March 31. Blooming is likely to begin around March 22. The festival begins March 20.
Thanks to our mild winter, the cherry blossoms are due to arrive a bit early this year.
The peak bloom date has historically come around April 4. Last year, florets were visible March 9, with the "puffy white" phase beginning March 22, and peak bloom March 29. Peak bloom was one day later in 2010.
This year, Washington marks 100 years with its famous cherry blossom trees -- a gift from Japan in 1912.
"What a visionary decision it was to do this in the first place.... This has survived in good times and in bad times, and frankly it's often been one of the things that's brought us back together," said Mayor Vincent Gray during Thursday's press conference to announce the blooming dates.
The annual cherry blossom festival, which otherwise runs for two weeks, has been expanded to five to celebrate the centennial. The extended celebration this year runs from March 20 until April 27.
It usually attracts about a million visitors to D.C. each year -- both for the blossoms and their related events.
The festival's annual Pink Tie Party will be held March 20 at the Mayflower Renaissance with chefs Roy Yamaguchi and José Andrés. Tickets, at $200 per person, help to keep the majority of the cherry blossom program free and open to the public.
The first weekend will feature family days at the National Building Museum.
The opening ceremony is set for Sunday March 25, and for the first time will be held at the Washington Convention Center. It will be "bigger and better than ever," with performances from Sara Bareilles, the Children's Ballet of Washington, and Japanese artist Misia, among others.
Sunday, March 31 marks the Blossom Kite Festival on the National Mall.
On Saturday, April 7, the Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival will run from 1 to 8:30 p.m. featuring live music, kid-friendly activities, and food and drinks from neighborhood vendors.
On Saturday, April 14, the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade will feature Katie Couric, Alex Trebec and Leon Harris as announcers. Celeb marshalls include Kristy Yamaguchi and the 2011 winner of "The Voice," Javier Colon.
The parade will run two and a half hours, a half-hour longer than in the past. You'll see giant ballooms, floats, marching bands, performers and more.
Following the parade is the Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street festival, the largest Japanese cultural festival in the United States, with food, arts and merchandise vendors, traditional Japanese and J-pop performances, and martial arts demos. The parade is one of the few events that now charges for admission, which is $5 for those age 13 and older. Kids 12 and younger are free.
This year's centennial fest has strengthened its focus on Japanese culture.
"Our prayers continue to be with the people of Japan," Gray said of the March 2011earthquake and tsunami.
The National Gallery of Art will feature Japanese flower paintings. The Sackler gallery will showcase a famous set of woodblocks. And at the Kennedy Center, concert series stars Japanese performers.
Additionally, crews have planted new trees around the Martin Luther King Jr., memorial that opened last year, said Bob Vogel, superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks.
For complete coverage of this year's Cherry Blossom festival, check out our feature page here.