There is nothing like fresh maple syrup! When I found out how easy it was to tap maple trees in my own backyard, I never looked back!
When we bought our house on two acres 5 years ago, my brother in law came to visit and started pointing out all the sugar maple trees on our property. He encouraged us to tap maple trees and make our own maple syrup, but I kept dragging my feet year after year.
Two years ago, I decided to pull the trigger and buy what I needed make our own maple syrup. I could just kick myself that we didn’t start sooner! It’s such a fun activity that brings our whole family together every year and we all love the fruits of our labor.
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Am I able to tap my maple trees?
Production of maple syrup only takes place in a few locations. In order to be able to collect sap from sugar maple trees, there has to be a wide swing in temperature from above freezing during the day to below freezing at night. Usually this only takes place in Canada, the Northeast and the Upper Midwest. If you live in one of those areas, you should absolutely try!
What supplies do I need to tap maple trees for syrup?
You actually don’t need much to get the process started! You’ll need the correct types of trees – preferably sugar maple trees, a drill and a drill bit that is a tiny bit smaller than the taps – in my case, that’s 7/16″. You’ll need taps (spiles), and a mallet to pound them in. Lastly, you’ll need tubing and food safe buckets to collect the sap. You’ll need additional things to cook it down, but I’ll cover that in a future post.
I purchased my supplies to tap maple trees – maple spiles and tubing on Amazon. I chose a 10 pack that included 3 foot tubes so I could run them to buckets on the ground. We already had a cordless drill, drill bit and mallet. The last thing I needed to find was something to use for a sap bucket. I ended up contacting bakeries in our town and buying used buckets and lids from them for about $1 each. I bought a few food grade containers from a nearby bakery to use as a sap collection container and then I found the best option to be our local Giant Eagle – their bakery gave them to me for free!
Some people even use milk jugs or water jugs to collect sap. Just make sure you check them often because on a warm day, they will fill up fast!
Food Safe Buckets with Lids for sap buckets
Can I tap any maple tree?
The short answer is yes! Any maple tree will give you a lot of sap that you can cook down into pure maple syrup. The reason that sugar maple trees are the most common variety used is because they contain a much higher percentage of sugar in their sap. That means for every gallon of sap the sugar maple produces, you’ll get more of the finished product – maple syrup – than you would from another variety of maple.
With that being said, many people tap all kinds of maple trees – black maple trees, red maple trees, silver maples! While I’ve never done it, there are also other varieties of trees that can be tapped. Here’s a pretty comprehensive list of trees and some details about the type of syrup they make.
I came back to update this post in 2024 because I tapped our silver maple tree last year for the first time! While sugar maple trees may have the highest sugar content in their sap, we found that our huge silver maple tree did a stellar job producing maple sap! It didn’t seem to differ much on the sap yield. It also didn’t really change how much sap we needed to produce a gallon of syrup.
So while sugar maples have the best sugar ratio in their sweet sap, you can still tap different species of trees. I think even if you don’t have the best trees, it’s well worth the effort to tap another type of tree. Especially when you have your own trees in your backyard! Just make sure you put in the maple spile at the ideal time on the south side of the tree and let the sap run!
I can’t wait to see if I have another type of maple tree on my property to try out!
How much syrup will I get from my sugar maple trees?
Will I get enough sap? This is a tough thing to answer. So many factors play into that — how many taps you can put on a tree, how much sap you’ll get from the tree, and what the sugar content of your sap is. Additionally, the weather conditions play a HUGE part in the volume of sap. I’ll break it down a bit for you.
How many tap holes can I put on my sugar maple trees?
Tapping a healthy sugar maple tree will not harm the tree if it’s done properly. The size of the tree is really important to know. If the diameter of the tree is less than 10″, don’t tap it! It isn’t healthy for a tree that size, because it needs all of its sap to keep growing. If you steal it’s sap, you might not have a tree there next year! However, if the diameter of the tree is over 10″, you’re free to tap away!
10″-20″ diameter: You can place 1 tap in this size tree
20-25″ diameter: You can place 2 taps in this size tree
25+” diameter: You can place 3 taps in this size tree
It’s important to mention that this is diameter, not circumference. You can use a tape measure to measure the circumference of the tree and then divide by 3.14 to get the diameter.
How much tree sap will I get?
On average, each tap will produce 10-20 gallons. The volume of sap is very dependent on the weather conditions, daytime temperatures, and nighttime temperatures. If you have a huge string of days that don’t go over freezing, there will be no sap flow.
Another consideration is which side of the tree is tapped. It’s recommended to tap on the south side of the tree, since that is where the sun hits and it will get the sap flowing. If the tap is on the North side, you’ll see a marked decrease in the amount of sap you’ll get. Additionally, if you tap too late in the season, you’ll also get less sap because the season is short. But on average, each spile will produce about 10-20 gallons.
How many gallons of syrup will I get from my sap?
On average, for 1 gallon of maple syrup, you’ll need to collect 40 gallons of sap. This is highly dependent on the sugar content of your maple sap. Remember when we were talking earlier about sugar maples being the best for maple syrup? That’s because their sugar content is the highest of any maple tree. The average maple sap contains 1-4% sugar. If your average sugar content is 2.5%, then you’ll get one gallon of syrup for every 40 gallons of tree sap. I think our trees are closer to the 4% range. The last 2 years, we have gotten 1.75 gallons from around 42 gallons of sap. Not bad!
So how much pure maple syrup will you get from your tree? Let’s say you’ve got an average sized tree with a 22″ diameter. You place 2 taps and get 20 gallons from each tap throughout the season. If you have an average sugar content, you can probably figure you’ll get about 1 gallon from that tree.
When do I tap maple trees?
Maple syrup season comes at a certain time of year – late winter when the weather conditions are right. You must have cold nights and warmer days – when the nighttime temperatures are below freezing, and the daytime temperatures are above freezing. I know there’s a ton of information about why this works, but I’m not super into science. I just know that the best time to tap is when there’s the highest sap flow. That occurs when it’s in the 20’s at night and 40-50’s during the day!
The season is relatively short for maple syrup. It’s often early February to the middle of March, but may start as early as late January and go until early April. It really just depends on the weather that year. You don’t want to put them in too early, because once you place the taps, they will flow for about 3 weeks before they begin to scar over. This year, we are going to place ours the first week of February.
Make sure to watch the weather forecast and choose a day that is above freezing to do the drilling. If you drill into the tree when it’s below freezing, it can crack the bark and leak sap out the crack 🙁 You don’t want your gallons of sugar maple sap to pour down the tree instead of in your sap bucket!
The end of the season is early spring when you notice the tree beginning to bud. As you’re collecting sap, make sure you often look to see if the buds are peeking out. As soon as this happens, the sap turns bitter and will make your syrup taste bad. That would be horrible to have all that hard work down the drain! So once those buds pop up, remove your taps!
Where do I put taps on a maple tree?
It’s often advised to put the tap hole below a large branch or above a large root. I try to keep mine within about 4′ of the ground because I chose spiles with 3′ tubes. When you add that to the height of the bucket, it keeps me around 4′ off the ground.
While you can get sap from any side of the tree, putting the tap hole on the south side of the tree will experience the highest exposure to the sun, thus will produce the most sweet sap.
I usually have 2 plastic taps attached to tubes running into each bucket, so I place the tap holes close enough together to be able to reach the bucket lid.
How do I tap a maple tree?
- Once you’ve waited until the weather forecast shows that you’ll have nice warm days when the daytime temperatures will be above freezing and the nighttime temperatures will be below freezing, locate the south side of the tree above a large root or below a large branch.
- Place a piece of tape on the drill bit about 1 1/2-2″ up so it matches the depth of your spile and prevents drilling too far into the tree.
- Drill at a slight angle upwards until you reach the piece of tape.
- Clean the hole out with a twig.
- Insert spile into the hole with the tube pointing toward the ground and gently tap with a mallet. Do not hit too hard or you’ll crack the spile. Also, tapping too hard makes them really hard to remove in the spring.
- Drill a hole in the lid of the food grade bucket.
- Place the tube from the spile, into the bucket.
- Check your buckets 1-2 times a day, depending on the weather. When it’s a beautiful sunny day, I’ve collected a full bucket in one day!
- Store sap in a cool location.
- Cook down into syrup within a week.
Watch my son teach you how to tap trees by clicking below!
Can I tap the same sugar maple trees next year?
Yes you can! You’ll want to make sure that you drill new holes each year. Because of the scar tissue the tree develops, tapping in the same spot won’t be effective. Best practices are to tap about 6″ from last year’s tap holes.
Additional tips for tapping maple trees:
*Always wash your buckets really well with hot water before using them. Many people will wash them, wash again with a bleach solution, then wash again with soap and hot water.
*The sap usually runs for about 3-4 weeks, and during that time period you need to be ready to cook it down once a week OR have lots of freezer space available to freeze the sap — so plan accordingly!
*Once you collect the sap, you MUST keep it cool. Think of it more like milk and less like water. Although it looks crystal clear like water, it can absolutely spoil like milk. Once we have a full bucket, we keep it in the garage. We put all the buckets tightly together to maintain the cool temperature.
*Sap needs to be cooked down within about 1 week, especially if it’s quite warm during the day. Don’t keep it too long because it’s super sad to have the sap go bad!
*Be ready to put the maple spile in right after the tap hole is drilled. You’ll start seeing the sap flow out immediately and you don’t want to waste any of that precious liquid!
Will I save money by making my own maple syrup?
Collecting and cooking down maple sap into syrup does have up front expenses associated with it. I was paying about $12/qt for maple syrup locally, so I saved approximately $84 the first year, which paid for a chunk of the up front cost. My second year, I produced another 1.75 gallons, so I saved another $84 which paid for the rest of the equipment we invested in. From here on out, it’s pretty much free to make!
I wouldn’t say that it is cheaper to make it yourself. When you figure your time into the equation, you may not find it to be worth it. With that said, I think it’s infinitely important to teach my family where our food comes from. I want them to know how to do stuff! And I want to spend time together doing things that are valuable. So for us, this replaces spending money on something like taking the family out to a movie and allows us to spend that money and time together in a way that builds memories and provides a tangible thing that we use together throughout the year. It has been and continues to be an amazing family experience for us!
Next week I will dive in to the boiling process of how to cook down the sap of a maple tree into maple syrup!
Have you made your own maple syrup? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments!