Tapping Trees for Syrup and Water


If done carefully using the best practices, tapping trees can be done with little to no harm to the tree. Whenever we share information on tapping trees, there’s always at least one comment of concern for possible damage to the trees.

However, any good tree farmer or homeowner naturally has the best interest of their trees in mind. One member in our Planting for Retirement Facebook group who taps their maple, Cindy R. says, “We are counting down the weeks till maple syrup season starts. Usually mid Feb-March.”

Her family’s homestead and farm, Mulberry Apiary, is located in Princeton, MN, and they’re thriving selling cage free farm fresh eggs, honey from their own beehives and also maple syrup from their own trees.

For more wonderful gifts from trees, check out our article on edible tree leaves.

The tiny tree tap hole, if done right, is analogous to donating blood. It’s a tiny hole and heals itself quickly and without damage to the health of the tree.

“Sweet Trees” You Can Tap

Tree water, aka, sweet water is a growing business. Whether it’s your backyard trees, your back 40 or for your survival backpack, knowing how to tap trees for water especially, can be useful and possibly even a life saver.

You’re probably pretty familiar with tapping sugar maples for syrup. We discuss that further below as well. But did you know you can also tap trees like boxelder and walnut for water and even syrup?

Birch is another tap tree for sweet water, and there are at least 5 different varieties of birch you can tap. In fact there’s an entire and growing tree water industry that especially favors birch water which you may also enjoy reading more about.

9 Trees You Can Tap for Syrup

1. Box Elder Tree, Acer negundo

Boxelders will produce sap, but it will be significantly less sweet compared to the sugar maple and yields about half as much.

2. White Walnut (Butternut) Tree, Juglans cinerea

The white walnut tree is most comparable to the sugar maple as far as sugar content and yield is concerned.

3. Black Walnut Tree, Juglans nigra

The black walnut is a good sturdy midwestern tree. It is used mainly for its timber resource, but will produce a sap from fall to spring.

4. English Walnut Tree, Juglans regia

English walnut trees are the most popular of the walnut bearing trees and grow almost solely in California. Sap production can be abundant, especially if the climate during winter and spring is cold.

5. Heartnut Trees, Juglans ailantifolia

Heartnuts produce a sweet sap but with less yield compared to the sugar maple.

6. Sycamore Tree, Platanus occidentalis

The sycamore tree is a butterscotch lovers dream for the sycamore sap taste remind you of butterscotch.

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7. Ironwood Tree, Olneya tesota

Ironwood trees produce sap in the late spring months. The volume isn’t high or as sweet as the sugar maple, but it’s there if you need liquid nourishment in the wild.

8. Black Birch Tree, Betula lenta

The black birch tree is found mostly in the East and lends itself best to birch beer (similar to root beer), but does produce a sap for syrup making.

9. River Birch Tree, Betula lenta

The River Birch tree can be a messy yard tenant, but they produce an abundant amount of sap.

Tapping Birch Water Naturally

We have a lot of birch trees around us and love the idea of a natural drip from pruned twigs and small branches of birch for the least harm to the tree. However, you naturally get the greatest water drip from the fresher prunings rather than the spindly ends of branches.

As rookies in tapping trees, we really didn’t want to risk damaging our birch trees just for the experiment.

Tapping Can Damage Birch Trees

“Maple trees heal every year. Now birch trees do not. I would love to tap birch trees to make natural xylitol but I choose not to because I do not have enough birch trees to justify losing even one. Native Americans managed maple tree groves for decades for their sap. They made numerous products from the maple tree. As long as someone knows not to tap in the same place every year and knows how to see if a tree healed then the tree will be fine.”~Cindy Redding, owner Mulberry Apiary

We tried tapping our own birch trees and they gave us clear refreshing water. However, it was definitely water and nothing remotely like syrup. While the liquid from maples is also more watery than what we know and love as the maple syrup that it’s cooked down to be, birch is definitely lighter fresher and more like water than a sappy syrup.

So these would be more for the “sweet water” type beverages rather than turning into something resembling syrup.

Speaking of sweet water versus syrup, if you’d like to learn more about the tree water business you may be interested in this article on how the sweet tree water business is expected to explode into a billion dollar industry by 2025.

If you’re interested in more information you might check out how to tap maple trees, as well as some of the benefits of tree water and how we tapped our birch trees.

Birch water is currently one of the most popular “sweet waters”, but knowledge is important to avoid damage to the trees.

Tapping Maple Trees for Home Grown Maple Syrup!

If you’ve bought maple syrup recently, then you know how expensive it is to buy 100% pure maple syrup. Yet there’s no comparison in quality and taste of real maple syrup versus those that say “maple flavor”.

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So it’s good to discover that maple tapping is really not that difficult. In this article we’re sharing the basics of maple tapping to get you started. You’ll also find a video on how to make a maple taffy treat.

Tree tapping can be a fun project to do with your entire family. Good clean fun outside in the woods, learning about prepping and tapping maple trees, followed by making your own syrup and treats!

Learning where things come from and how they’re made increases the appreciation and awareness of foods we take for granted. The more children learn about where things come from, the greater that awareness tends to extend toward appreciate for value, hard work and care of the earth.

When is Tapping Season?

As with all things in nature, the season is dependent on your location. Tapping trees occurs later in colder regions and earlier in milder regions with most tree tapping occurring from mid February to mid April. The best time to tap trees is before the trees bud out, and when the highs are in the 40°F’s and the lows are below freezing.

Tap maple trees before the trees bud out.

What Kind of Trees Can I Tap?

The best maple syrup comes from sugar maple or hard maple trees because their sap has the highest sugar content. You can also tap others but the end product will taste a bit different and the boiling process takes a little bit longer.

You may want to tap the soft maples, birch, or box elder for sweet water.

The tree must be healthy with a full canopy of leaves in the summer – thanks to the magic of photosynthesis, the more leaves a tree has, the sweeter its sap. One tap hole can produce up to 12 gallons of sap in a season (which boils down to approximately one quart) and larger trees can accommodate more than one tap. Most sugar makers follow this taps-per-tree rule:

The more leaves a tree has, the sweeter its sap.

How to Tap Your Maple Tree

Now for a how-to video about tapping maple trees. MI Gardener shows you how to tap maple trees for best results and health of the tree, including when to tap, how to tap, and where to tap.

Maple Tree Tapping Facts

Best Maples Trees to Tap for Syrup:

  • Sugar maple trees (Acer saccharum), aka, rock or hard maple, are best producers
  • Red maples (Acer rubrum) also provide sweet sap
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Best Maple Trees:

  • Look for trees with large draping crowns for best results

Syrup Yield:

  • Average yield is 5-15 gallons per taphole
  • Potential yield can be 40-80 gallons per taphole

Syrup per Gallon of Sap:

  • 10 gallons of sap to produce one quart of syrup

Sugar Content:

  • Average maple sugar content is between 2-3% and is typically
    • Higher in AMs
    • Lower in PMs

Minimum Tree Diameter Size for Tapping

  • 10″ diameter for 1 tap
  • 20″ for 2 taps
  • 25″ for 3 taps

Distance Between Tapholes:

  • Vertical Distance: minimum 2′ over or under a former tap hole
  • Horizontal Distance: no closer than 6″ from the side of an old taphole

SOURCE: You can access more good how-to information from the University of Maine Extension Service.

Next, we look at how to make maple syrup, learn how to boil maple sap to make maple syrup. This is GardenFork.TV[1]https://GardenFork.TV

For more explicit step-by-step instructions on how to tap maple trees, this article put out by University of Maine extension service should answer all your questions. They also have a “Print” function and videos.

And… if you want to know how to make Maple taffy… here’s a video on just that!

How to Make Maple Taffy (la Tire D’Érable) Reveena’s Kitchen

How to Make a DIY Evaporator

In this video you’ll find some detailed pics at the end of the video along with cost of materials.

One of our community members shared this information on her process. They’re tapping their tree now in zone 7b, because it’s been a mild February.

Backyard Maple Tree Tapping in Zone 7B

Contributor, Kimberly Constanzo

It’s our second year tapping our silver maples for maple syrup. It’s a low budget approach, and we will only get a small amount of syrup but still so worth it!

Kimberly uses stainless steel tree taps she got from Amazon.

We love her DIY tap buckets! We even used ziplocs for some of ours. Especially for the ones we tested from clipped branches, for the least impact. Some worked some didn’t. The branches clipped back the furthest were the best.

And here’s a photo share on the GardensAll Facebook page by Catherine Bell, tapping some of her Vermont Maple Trees.

And if you’d like to ponder the possibility of getting into the sweet water business, you may be intrigued with this article on this anticipated billion dollar industry. And lastly, more blessings from trees in this article on edible tree leaves.

Wish you happy tapping and healthy trees!

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>