Here’s When Maple Trees Produce Sap (And How Much They Produce)

Maple tree sap

All maple trees produce sap, but usually when we’re talking about the maple that produces sap that eventually turns into syrup, we’re talking about the sugar maple (Acer Saccharum). Earning its name from the sweet sap it produces, the Sugar Maple is an American northeastern and Canadian native, and it’s so popular and pleasing to look at, that two states have made it their state tree – Vermont and Wisconsin. 

Maple trees produce sap during a very small window of time. Temperatures dictate when the sap season begins and how long it lasts. The sap season starts in January when temperatures are beginning to rise above freezing and ends in April when the temperatures hit a consistent temperature above freezing.

Read on to find out which maple trees produce the best sap and what time of year they do. We’ll also dive into the equipment and some tips to harvest that sap to turn into syrup, in case you feel like topping your pancakes with your own homemade maple syrup (yum!)

The Maple Tree is one of America’s biggest timbers, with sugar maples reaching anywhere from 50 to 130 feet. The fewer neighboring trees a Maple has, the larger it gets.

The top of the Sugar Maple is round with compact leaves and branches. A tree whose inner workings rely on the cold as much as it relies on the summer heat, it’s a fairly hardy tree.

A beautiful and imposing presence, the Maple Tree is a North American classic.

If you’re looking to grow a maple tree check out our maple tree growth timeline!

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There Are A Few Maple Trees With Usable Sap

Another source of sap would be the Black Maple (Acer Nigrum) or Red Maple (Acer Rubrum), although, they may not be considered the most favorable choices.

The Black Maple which also produces sap will do a similar job as the Red Maple, and although it may be quicker, it doesn’t produce sap that is the same quality as sap from the Sugar Maple. For this reason, the Black Maple is not typically sought out. And although you can get sap from a Red Maple (Acer Rubrum) as well, this sap is, unfortunately, less sweet and the window to get the syrup is much smaller. 

Red Maples buds break earlier in the year. Bud breaking is when, as the name suggests, the buds of the tree begin to break through the surface. It’s when the next stage of a tree’s cycle begins (and the start of spring at that) and at which point, the sap’s taste begins to change and it’s no longer a viable syrup source. Well, at least not like a tasty syrup!

If you want to learn about more trees that produce syrup-worthy sap, check out our article on the five trees that produce maple syrup!

How To Tell Sugar, Red, And Black Maples Apart

Red Maple and Sugar Maple are very similar looking and often confused. Both produce sap but the Sugar Maple is favored for that resource.

To tell the two apart you usually look to the leaves. A Maple Tree’s leaf looks like a hand with its fingers extended out. A Red Maple will have more indentations and grooves along the edges of the leaf while Sugar Maples are smooth.

To tell a Black Maple from a Sugar Maple, again, we turn to the leaves! As stated above, Sugar Maple leaves have more round, less jagged edges. Black Maple leaves have more of a drooping look and their leaves have almost a hairy texture to them. 

When fall rolls around, you might even get a stronger clue. Sugar Maple leaves turn a very vibrant orange during the Fall season while Black Maple leaves tend to be more yellow. This may seem like a tiny detail, but when two trees are hard to tell apart, you gotta take what you can get!

Check out our article about different types of maple trees to learn more!

So, What Is Maple Tree Sap Anyway?

Sap is made up of water and the starch found in the roots of a tree that gets transformed into sucrose, i.e. sugar. The reason why Sugar Maples are so favored for their sap is they tend to have a higher concentration of sugar, meaning, it can be used to make more syrup because there’s more sugar to go around.

And isn’t that the end goal of it all? 

Now, how does that sap get from inside the tree to outside the tree and onto our pile of French toast? During the season when the sap is thriving, temperature plays a key role in getting the sap from inside the tree to inside our local waffle House – so, let’s talk about its movement below!

How Does Maple Tree Sap Move?

During the day, when temperatures are above freezing, the heat pushes the sap up through the tree and if there is an opening somewhere on that tree, the sap will pour out of it. That’s why we tap trees!

At night, when the temperature drops below freezing, the drop creates suctioning; pulling the water up through the leaves, mixing that water with the sugar and creating MORE sap. 

So, which maple trees have sap, and how can I tell? Keep reading to find out!

What Environmental Factors Will Increase A Maple’s Sap Output?

Large maple tree in a grass field with a clear blue sky.

There are a few things that will increase a Maple’s Sap supply like location and nitrogen availability – let’s talk more about that below!

Location! Location! Location!

As discussed earlier, a great way to tell how good a Maple Tree’s sap supply will be is where it is in relation to other trees.

A tree that’s going to give you more sap is a tree that isn’t competing with a lot of others. Specifically, you want a tree whose crown is not competing with other trees – I guess you can say the tree will be very full of itself. A Maple Tree that has a large and healthy crown will actually provide more syrup than a tree that has grown in a tight and enclosed space.

According to Pennsylvania State University, trees grown without competing forestation can produce from 15 to 20 gallons of sap in a season. A Sugar Maple Tree grown in a forest, with competing growth, will give offer about 10 gallons of sap in one season. Tapping a tree squished between other Maples is gonna halve the amount of sap you are able to retrieve. 

The expensive supermarket prices for Maple syrup are starting to make a lot more sense now…

Check out our article on how and where to plant your maple tree for the best results in your own yard.

Nitrogen Availability Affects The Sap Supply

This isn’t a tip you always want to put into practice but can be beneficial for maple trees. Maple Trees LOVE nitrogen and a study published by the University of New York shows that an increase in nitrogen will also increase the sugar levels in the sap. Which, then, of course, increases the syrup output.

The reason why you may want to hold off on increasing the nitrogen in the soil (which would be a quick way to get it into the root system and into the body of the tree) is that just like how nitrogen can flow from the soil into the roots, it can also flow from the soil into any neighboring water sources, which can pollute nearby water.

Those water sources could be used for plants that aren’t happy with lots of nitrogen in their system and no one wants to negatively impact one plant at the expense of another! 

All that being said, if you live in an area where there are natural stretches of land with higher nitrogen in the soil, you’re gonna have a great and healthy spot to plant your maple.

For a more detailed guide, check out our article on how to fertilize your maple tree.

When Is Maple Sap Season?

This is the question that requires a little work on your part, but don’t worry, it’s not a difficult task. Sap season happens at the end of winter/beginning of spring but it’s less about the exact dates and more about the conditions

Before we dive into the little bit of work, you should actually learn some info about what conditions are necessary for sap to be available to tap. But DON’T WORRY, it’ll be quick, easy, and painless!

Seasonal Conditions Required To Produce Sap

There are a couple of things you’re gonna need from Mother Nature for sap to occur in healthy supply. 


Water is one of the main properties of sap so to get a lot of sap, you’re gonna need a lot of water. To get a healthy size of sap from a maple tree, the previous summer there needed to be a good amount of rain. 


Temperature is also a key part of sap abundance. When it’s time to tap a tree for sap, you’re going to need certain temperature qualities at play for the sap to move up through the tree.

A Look At A Sap Season Timetable

I know what you’re thinking – can you just answer the question…? Absolutely. Well, sorta. Just a little more background information is involved than just a straight answer! Basically, the sap season depends on what the temperatures are like in your specific area. Get a calendar that tells you the temperatures in your area from January to April/May. 

To find the start of sap season, look at January and figure out when the temperatures are no longer just steadily below freezing but actually fluctuating from below to above freezing- that is your start time. To find the end of the season, look to March/April/May (if you’re lucky enough to live in an area with extra long springs), when you see steady above-freezing temperatures – this is your end date.

So, for all the time between those fluctuating temperatures to when the temperatures hold firm above freezing, that whole stretch, is sap season.

Now The Fun Part: How To Collect Sap

Collecting maple sap in winter

What if you live in an area where Sugar Maples flourish in abundance and you want to tap your own sap to make Maple Syrup? You can!

Sap tapping (this is not the technical name…) is an activity lots of people love and have even built small syrup businesses out of!

It is an endeavor and you will have to get special equipment, so only embark on this journey if it really excites you and you plan to do it safely (remember you’re dealing with a pretty cold time of year!). 

There are many delicious syrup brands you can get without ever having to step ONE FOOT in the woods. Like this delicious Coombs Family Farms Organic Maple Syrup!

The Need To Knows When Collecting Maple Tree Sap

However, if you really want to tap a tree on your own – there are a few things to remember! The size of the tree, the equipment you use, and certain things to avoid.

How Big Should The Maple Tree Be To Collect Sap?

The size of the maple tree really matters when you’re collecting sap! Here’s a quick rule of thumb when deciding which tree to tap.

  • 12” or less in diameter: don’t tap
  • 12” to 18”: tap one hole
  • 18” and up: tap two holes

You never want to tap more than two holes per tree. It messes with the pressure building inside the tree which is necessary to move the sap throughout it.

How To Use A Sap Spout

Just like when you hang a picture, you want the drill bit you use to create the hole to match the size of the spout the sap is gonna pour out of. A great set that you can try out is this Dewalt Drill Bit Set!

For the spout, you’re going to want to use something that is durable & easy to clean. Liberty has a highly rated Stainless Steel Tap that has a little hook on it, making it easy and convenient for hanging a bucket under. It’s made of steel, so it’ll be easy to clean and won’t crack.

You’re also gonna want to be VERY CAREFUL when you’re putting the spout in – splintering the wood around it will just create more cracks in the tree, the sap will pour out from all the cracks, which will miss your bucket – and in turn, your plate.

What To Avoid When Tapping A Tree

  • Don’t tap old wood. Make sure to tap only clean, white wood. Discolored wood could mean decay, and you’re not going to want to chance getting decay mixed up in the sap you could eventually be consuming.
  • Don’t tap old holes because it could lead to cracking and as we’ve already discussed, you DEFINITELY don’t want that.
  • Don’t use any sort of sanitizing agent.
  • Don’t leave spouts in the tree! Make sure to remove the spouts at the end of the season. Firstly, you paid money for that thing, you don’t want to lose it. Secondly, a lot can happen in a year- that spout could be knocked about, and it can create cracks that you’ll regret when you go back the next year!

How To Turn Maple Sap Into Syrup

There are a few things to remember when collecting the sap, and then turning it into syrup. Let’s talk about these below.

Collecting The Sap

You’re going to want to get sanitized buckets and jugs for collecting the sap. For some great options, check out these cute Tiawudi 2 Pack of Collapsable Plastic Buckets, that are perfect for collecting sap!

Each day of collecting, you’re going to be able to collect about one gallon of sap. Until you have the chance to boil your sap, you’re going to want to keep it below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Maple Sap is a natural resource – and can spool. And it will spoil much quicker if it gets above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Before boiling the sap to turn it into syrup, you must filter the sap to clear out any debris that might be floating around – check out how to filter and boil the sap below!

To Make Syrup, Simply Boil The Sap

PLEASE NOTE: only boil clear sap, make sure to discard any yellow or cloudy sap. We don’t always know what’s going on with a tree and want to only use the cleanest and healthiest parts.

When boiling the sap, you don’t want the temperature to rise above 219 degrees Fahrenheit (a candy thermometer is gonna come in handy here), and the way you handle it is gonna be very similar to how you would caramel. DO NOT STIR THE SAP, let it do its thing!

After you’ve boiled and filtered it again for debris or crystallized sugar, put it in a cool place to dry (not a cold place) and now, you’ve got yourself some homemade syrup. Yum!

If you’re unsure how to boil sap correctly, please check in with a professional to ensure your sap turns into a syrup that you can eat.

Wrap Up!

There’s a lot to learn, and love, about maple trees and their sap! Let’s go over what we learned!

  • They all produce sap but only some of them are more favorable.
  • There are fun ways to collect sap, that you can do on your own!
  • There are certain times like from January – April that are best for collecting sap.
  • Collecting sap can be an enjoyable activity!

As fall is in the air, Maple leaves will change color and Maple syrup will be filling up shops and homes alike. Hopefully, this gave you some fun ideas about sap tapping (again, not the official title!) or at the very least, helped you understand Mother Nature a little more!


Farrell, M. (2013) Estimating the maple syrup production potential of American forests: an enhanced estimate that accounts for density and accessibility of tappable maple trees. Agroforestry Systems.

Ball, D. W. (2007) The chemical composition of maple syrup. Agroforestry Systems.

Lovett, G. M. & Mitchell, M.J. (2004) Sugar maple and nitrogen cycling in the forests of Eastern North America. Agroforestry Systems.

Wild, A.D. & Yanai, R. D. (2015) Soil nutrients affect sweetness of sugar maple sap. Forest Ecology and Management.

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