Wacky winter weather spawns January blossoms

WASHINGTON — Despite the implication that some type of time travel or alternate reality could be involved, you shouldn’t be alarmed by the appearance of springlike blossoms on a tree in Northwest D.C.

A city arborist explains numbers of other factors could be in play.

The tree thinks it’s spring

“We’re having really warm winter weather,” said Shaun McKim, an arborist with the Urban Forestry Division of the District Department of Transportation.

“If you think about when the Cherry Blossom Festival typically kicks off — we’re in about ‘this’ kind of weather pattern, 50, 60 degrees during the day. And, it’s been really wet, just like the spring typically is. So, the tree is just a little confused,” McKim said.

Want to help a newly planted city tree? Arborist Shaun McKim suggested that residents fill up the green, slow-drip “gator bag” that circles the sapling’s trunk with water. (WTOP/Kristi King)

Growth zone transplantation issues?

D.C. plants 8,000 trees a year that might include some from as far away as Georgia, where trees expect springtime sooner than those from growers in more northern climates.

One and done?

Trees, or even the parts of trees that flower now, won’t bloom again until next year, which could put a damper on springtime displays. But, McKim said it doesn’t appear now as if that will be an issue.

The blooming tree in Northwest D.C. appears to be a fairly isolated incident. “I’m never that worried about it, unless I see a bunch of them all doing it,” McKim said.

“I know a lot of people look forward to things like the Cherry Blossom Festival, and it’s always a shame when the flowers aren’t at peak when people want to have the parade and come down to the city to witness that sort of thing.”

Why plant 8,000 trees a year?

  • They help control stormwater.
  • Larger trees provide shade for pedestrians and cars.
  • Shade on buildings cuts down on energy use.
  • Trees use carbon and help counter CO2 pollution.
  • And, they’re pretty.

“I’ve seen streets where they’ve been redone and all the trees are gone. It is so much more beautiful once the area has been replanted,” McKim said.

“I think it really adds something to any community.”

Make a request

Residents can request trees for plant boxes on their streets, online or by calling 311.

Want to help a newly planted city tree? McKim suggested that residents fill up with water the green, slow-drip “gator bag” that circles the sapling’s trunk.

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