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Like the squirrels do, time to get ready for winter

The squirrel runs down the rough trunk of the massive tree, acorn firmly clenched in rodent teeth. Tiny paws dig a hole in the mulch, inserting the precious cargo, patting mulch over it, and then moving a twig with leaves over the top.

Two seconds later, Rocky digs up the nut and moves it 5 inches, covering it, and then concealing the coverage.

I sip pumpkin spice coffee and watch him repeat this process three more times.

It made me smile because Dirt Cottage is surrounded by mature oaks, and acorns aren’t exactly rare in our neck of the woods.

But it did get me thinking about all of the things that need to happen before a hard frost, let alone snow.

Most of the tender annuals are already in the house, and those that aren’t inside are on the porch under the eaves.

If you haven’t already done so, it is time to prep your tropical plants for the indoor season.

I squirt some dish soap into a bowl and either spray the plants with the soapy water or wash their undersides using a sponge or towel.

This isn’t because I’m a clean freak – far from it – it’s because a good bath with soap helps remove tiny little insects, their babies and their eggs so that they don’t make your house their home.

I also pour some soapy water into the soil and give the plants a good watering, allowing the excess to flow away. In theory, this is supposed to wash out any bugs in the dirt. My grandmother did it, anyway, and it seems to make sense.

Wipe down the pot, including the bottom, getting rid of anything that looks like eggs, little cottony spider bundles and the like.

I have a few windows that get decent light in winter, so the next task is to get those spots ready, covering them with plastic or glass to prevent watering accidents.

Final note

The Dirt bids a fond farewell to Neuhouser’s, a place where you could find healthy plants, good advice and fun things for the garden.

I was unknowingly one of the last customers at its store on Jefferson Boulevard on Sept. 16. By Sept. 18, the store was closed for good.

This is a plea to my fellow gardeners: Big-box stores have their place, but if we don’t support local businesses, they will go away. It is as simple as that.

Neuhouser’s Jefferson and Stellhorn Road stores took first and second place in the 2012 Fort Wayne Newspapers Readers’ Choice Awards for home garden centers. It didn’t save them.

Anne Gregory is a garden putterer, not a gardening expert, and writer and editor. Garden photos (JPEGs, please) and tips may be sent to (please put “The Dirt” in the subject line) or 600 W. Main St., Fort Wayne, IN 46802.