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How to Tap a Maple Tree

If you live in a tree-rich area, one of the most fun activities you and your family can try is making maple syrup from scratch. There’s nothing like finding the right tree, tapping that maple syrup and making it ready for your table. Imagine how proud you’ll feel when you offer homemade maple syrup to friends and loved ones.

Before knowing how to make syrup, you have to know how to tap a maple tree. There are different kinds of maple trees, and you must identify the best trees for making syrup. Start by making a map of the trees available to you, being sure to clearly mark and identify the maple trees. Starting your day by trying to tap an oak tree isn’t the best way to have a great maple syrup-making experience. You can tap other types of trees, like birch and walnut, but your goal here is to make maple syrup.

The Different Kinds of Maple Trees

The types of maple trees you are most likely to encounter are as follows:

  • Sugar Maple: These are the best trees for making syrup. Because of its high sugar content, the sugar maple’s sap produces the sweetest and many say the best maple syrup. The maple leaf on the Canadian flag is a sugar maple leaf. Sugar maples grow to about 100 feet tall, with leaves that are bright green with a pale green underside in spring, and that range from bright yellow to fluorescent red-orange in the fall. The leaves are round at the base, usually with five lobes and no fine teeth. The bark starts dark grey and matures to dark brown with vertical ridges. Twigs are slim, shiny and brown and the fruit of the sugar maple consists of winged seeds that join each other in a straight line and mature in the fall.
  • Black Maple: The black maple looks very similar to the sugar maple, except that the black maple leaves have three lobes as opposed to the sugar maple’s five. Its bark is somewhat darker and with deeper grooves than the sugar maple. Twigs tend to have warty protuberances, and the seeds are slightly larger than in the sugar maple.
  • Red Maple: The red maple grows to be a bit shorter than sugar and black maples, usually reaching an adult height of 60 to 90 feet. As the name would indicate, the leaves turn bright red in the fall, with three lobes and sharp teeth. Spring red maple leaves are light green on top with a whitish underside. The bark of the red maple starts light grey and smooth and matures to a darker bark with grey or sometimes black ridges as well as scaly, narrow plates. Twigs are shiny, slim and reddish. When they are broken, they give off an unpleasant odor. The fruit of the red maple is double-winged and matures in spring, rather than in the fall like the sugar and black maples.
  • Silver Maple: The silver maple grows to be around 70 to 100 feet tall. Its leaves have five lobes and fine teeth. They are pale green with a silvery underside. Bark is grey with a red tint that grows into a reddish brown with long scaly plates. Twigs are like the red maple, although winter buds are slightly larger. Like the red maple, when broken, they give off a noxious smell. Silver maple fruit looks and develops similarly to red maple fruit.

Equipment for Tree Tapping

Now that you’ve identified your trees, you need to tap one, for which you need the right equipment. This includes basic tools like a drill, hammer, pliers, spiles – the taps – to put into the hole you make in the tree, cheesecloth to filter out any solids, hooks and buckets to hang to collect the sap, storage containers for your sap once you have collected it and the right equipment to safely boil the sap.

How to Tap a Maple Tree

You should go out to tap as soon as it gets warmer, usually around mid-February or March. As temperatures rise from freezing at night to warmer in the day, pressure builds up in the tree, which promotes sap flow. Find a mature – 12 inches or more in diameter – healthy tree and bring your equipment, making sure the spiles and bucket are clean.

Use your drill to drill a hole about 3 feet up, either above a large root or below a large branch on the south side of the tree. Your drill bit size will depend on the size of your spiles, usually 5/16 or 7/16. Drill the hole 2 to 2 ½ inches deep, clear any wood shavings, insert the spile into your hook and then put the spile in the hole. Gently hammer the spile into the tree, but not too hard as you don’t want to split the wood. Once the spile is successfully secured to the tree, hang your bucket on the hook. The sap should flow right away.

How to Make Maple Syrup

Now that you’ve tapped your tree, store your sap in food-grade containers, being sure to filter out any debris with cheesecloth. Store the sap at 38 degrees Fahrenheit or lower and use within seven days of collection.

To make maple syrup, boil the sap, either outdoors or in a well-ventilated area. You’ll need 10 gallons of sap to make one quart of syrup. Once the sap is boiled, use a filter to remove the sediment. Then pour the syrup into a sterile bottle, cap it and refrigerate it. Congratulations! You’ve got homemade maple syrup!

Healthy Trees Make Good Syrup

The most important thing you need to make great maple syrup is healthy maple trees. If you need tree care for your maple trees or other trees on your property in northern Virginia, contact Richard’s Tree Service, the most trusted name when it comes to tree companies in northern Virginia. Richard’s Tree Service’s certified arborists can identify any problems with your trees and help you maintain long-term, healthy growth.

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