Cherry Blossoms not expected for start of the festival

The star attraction of the Cherry Blossom Festival will probably arrive not-so-fashionably late.

After cooler than normal temperatures this winter, a record string of subfreezing temperatures in January and persistent lows in the 20s, Macon’s famed Yoshinos are expected to be a no-show when the festival kicks off Friday.

“When it consistently gets warm during the day is when they start coming out,” said Karol Kelly, Bibb County’s Cooperative Extension agent.

Rain and clouds this past week have held down temperatures, but Thursday’s bright afternoon sun and high of 71 turned up the heat on Japanese magnolias. The trees came alive almost instantly with blooms Friday on downtown’s Mulberry Street. The pink-and-white, tulip-shaped flowers usually arrive weeks before the festival.

Bradford pears, which are often mistaken for Yoshino cherry trees, only recently seem to be waking from their seasonal slumber. A few dogwoods are springing to life, too.

Along the Third Street promenade that hosts lunchtime ice cream and soft drinks, the cherry trees are only showing the slightest bit of buds. The bare branches may still be naked this week.

“I don’t think they’re going to be here for the start of the festival,” Kelly said.

Saturday’s peekaboo clouds held temperatures to the 50s and the same is forecast for today. We may see more of the sun on Tuesday but highs will barely make it into the 60s. Clouds roll back in with the chance of showers for the final days before company comes hoping to see the trees in all their splendor. Highs are only expected to be in the low to mid-60s and lows will be in the upper 30s to around 40 degrees. Friday’s forecast calls for mostly sunny skies and a high in the upper 60s.

“Maybe that will encourage blooms and will be enough for them to get going,” Kelly said. “It looks like we’ll be safe with the lows.”

There is a brighter side to the cooler temperatures, as the delicate spring blooms may live longer with a decreasing chance of frost.

“If the trees had bloomed earlier, we would have been in danger,” Kelly said.

Festival founder Carolyn Crayton is certain the trees will be blooming by the close of the festival March 28. She believes they will form their splendid canopy in Third Street Park for the birthday celebration of co-founder William A. Fickling Sr. on March 23.

“They will be in bloom by the 23rd,” Crayton said. “They never have failed to bloom on the 23rd in the 29 years of the festival, but I don’t think they’ll be in bloom for the first of the festival. I hope they fool me.”

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.