How to Tap Maple Trees to Make Syrup in Your Backyard

Maple tap and bucket hanging from a tree in front of a yurt in Vermont

Tapping trees at home and making your own maple syrup is extremely rewarding and remarkably easy. Whether you have just a couple of maple trees in your backyard, or a whole stand of them, you can get started tapping trees with minimal investment in equipment.

This post breaks down exactly the WHAT and the HOW: what you need to tap trees in your backyard, what you need to make maple syrup from the sap you collect, and the few easy steps required to tap, collect, and evaporate sap from your trees.

What You Need to Tap Maple Trees

Here’s the good news: You probably already own everything on this very short list. But just in case, here are the tools you need to tap your maple trees:

What You Need to Collect Maple Sap

This list is also nice and short, with a decision to make: what kind of buckets to collect the sap. Here is the equipment you need to collect sap from your maple trees:

  • Spiles (the taps themselves).
  • Buckets (to hang from the spiles and collect sap)
  • Lids (to keep detritus and rain from the bucket)

A note on the spiles: There are different styles of taps. 5/16″ is the standard size now, but there are also larger 7/16″ spiles out there. If you go with a different style than what is linked above, double-check the size and use a different drill bit if necessary.

A note on the buckets: Plastic buckets are also now an option and are cheaper than the aluminum buckets. Additionally, some of our taps use 5-gallon buckets to collect sap (you can read our post about using five-gallon buckets to collect sap).

How to Tap Maple Trees

Tapping your trees takes just a few quick steps:

Select your maple trees. Sugar maples are best, followed by black, red, and silver maples (in descending order of sugar content in the sap). Choose trees that are large (12+ inch diameter), healthy, and in sunlight (so they get that sweet sun’s warmth).

Sanitize your equipment. Clean each spile, bucket, and lid with bleach and water. To clean the inside of the spiles, we recommend a wire cleaner. Be sure to rinse everything thoroughly when you’re done!

Tap your trees. Yes, you’re already there! Drill a hole 2.5″ deep, angled slightly upward to help the sap flow out (it can be helpful to put a piece of tape on the drill bit to mark 2.5 inches). Healthy wood is beige/light brown; if the wood shavings are dark, try a different spot on the tree or a different tree altogether.

Insert spiles. Tap your spile into the hole after cleaning out residual wood shavings.

Hang your bucket. Hang your bucket (plastic or aluminum) from the hook on the spile and thread the lid wire through the holes in the spile so it’s secured.

Let it flow. You did it! If the sap is already flowing, you’ll see it start to drip into your bucket.

When to Tap Maple Trees

Maple sap starts running at different times each year (and it seems to be getting even more variable with climate change), but in New England and similar latitudes you can expect to tap your trees in mid-February. (It’s not unheard of for a January thaw to get the sap running for a bit, though!)

Look for these ideal conditions: when daytime temperatures are above freezing and nighttime temperatures are below freezing. More specifically, low 40s during the day and 20s at night are what to look for in the forecast.

The sap will generally run until mid-March. Expect a few weeks of sap collection.

How to Evaporate Sap to Make Syrup

Commercial sugaring equipment is expensive, but there are several options for backyard maple sugaring:

Stovetop evaporation. If you’re only doing a few gallons of sap, this is reasonable, but still less than ideal. You can boil your sap in a pot on your stove, but remember that all that evaporating moisture has to go somewhere—and in this case, it’s going into your house.

Barrel evaporators. These are cool. They are essentially 55-gallon steel drums converted into a woodstove, with cutouts on the top to set evaporating pans in. If you make one yourself, it will be around $100.

Cinder block evaporators. This is what we use and the setup is ridiculously affordable. We made ours for $50. (Here’s a post about our setup.)