Mesa’s Orange Groves in the City

Not too long ago, when you were young (if you are claiming still to be middle-aged), there were thousands of acres of orange groves in Mesa, Arizona. When the city pushed into the groves, some of the trees were left to grow in the center strips of roads. In some communities, the houses were planned among the groves, so that each house has 5 or 6 trees surrounding it.

irrigation valve in Mesa

irrigation valve in Mesa

To water the groves, the city used irrigation systems. These systems are slightly smaller than manholes, have a semi-circle of cement around them, and appear on lawns, median strips, and public parks in Mesa. Depending on the time of year, the irrigation systems begin to bubble water out of them until the area surrounding them is flooded. It then stops pumping water and the trees soak it up.

The first time I saw a home lawn flooded in Mesa, I wondered what was happening. Now you can track the irrigation by the noise of the birds who are enjoying baths and drinking water before the sun rises to crisp up the grass.

Most modern houses have tiny watering tubes directed only at the

Irrigation valve releasing water

Irrigation valve releasing water

growing thing that needs it. But these flood-irrigation systems don’t waste water. The water is measured through a series of dams in the snow-covered mountains of the state, sent through canals. The water that falls from the sky is the hardest working water anywhere in the world. It is chased through dams, makes electricity, released into canals to help irrigation. I thought that once it was pumped into the urban orange groves it was left to sink into the ground and lost. But it isn’t. It’s sucked up again and put back in canals.

orange trees in road median, Mesa AZ

orange trees in road median, Mesa AZ

Meanwhile, those white-painted tree trunks? They protect the trunk from sunburn. Citrus trees aren’t native to the Sonoran desert, and the dark trunks overheat and crack in the sun. Painting them white prevents that.

—Photographs and story by Quinn McDonald, a certified creativity coach and writer in the Phoenix area. See more at

(c) All rights reserved, 2008

7 thoughts on “Mesa’s Orange Groves in the City

  1. I found this article because I was looking for an answer to this very question. I am new from Pennsylvania and the entire irrigation system is fascinating to me. I want to take a drive out to Mesa today to see the orange groves.

    • Take a map. The flood system is old and may not run on Sundays. It doesn’t flood every day. Start on East Main, where it crosses Country Club, and look for Robinson Street. Go North to the police station. On the East side of the police station, there is a row of orange trees that get the flood treatment. Walk East on 2nd St. or 3rd place and you’ll see old houses with the flood system in place.

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  3. I remember irrigation days back when I was attending junior high school–in Yuma, Ariz. I didn’t like those days. The school yard was flooded, and I thought it always smelled like frogs. Today, if I pass by a house in any of Salt River Project’s irrigation districts, after irrigation day–and I smell frogs–I think of my junior high school years. I think it’s a funny thing.

    —> Smell is a powerful link to memory, Jackie, although I’m sure junior high was just a few years ago!

  4. Well I finally know the reason behind the white trunks! And how interesting to think it’s to help citrus trees survive in a non-native climate even though “Citrus” is one of our state’s Five C’s! (I’m sure there are loads of analogies I could glean from this for my Blooming Where You’re Planted topic!) Thanks for the interesting info and photos!

    —-> I haven’t been here long enough to know the five Cs. Let’s see. Climate, Citrus, Canyon, Canal, and ummmmmm. . . .caliente?

  5. Hi Quinn. I live in north central Phoenix, and it is the same here as you are describing in Mesa. I have citrus trees and irrigation. I grew up here, so this is not unusual to me. I remember going to my grandmother’s house in central Phoenix and she too had irrigation. It’s interesting to hear your perspective. It doesn’t seem “weird” to me at all!

    Andrea Beaulieu

    —-> Things that are odd to people who just move to Virginia–that it stays light till 9 p.m., for example–don’t seem odd to me, either. But when you just moved, everything is new. Meanwhile, I did some research, and discovered some more about the irrigation system, so I’ve updated the blog post. Arizona rain is the hardest working water in the US! -Q

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