Even though we got a good, soaking rain last week, the weather has been unusually dry. While well-established woody shrubs and small trees can generally get by without watering, natural rainfall being enough, newly planted shrubs and trees need winter watering.

Anything that has gone into the ground in the last year deserves special attention. Water thoroughly, laying the hose end on the ground at the base of the tree trunk or in the middle of the shrub base. Turn the faucet on about medium flow, so as not to disrupt the soil around the plant. Let the water run at least five minutes, preferably 10, and then move to the next one. Do this two or three days in a row.

When you put away the hose, store it where it won't freeze. Since it's difficult to get every drop of water out of the hose after each use, in all likelihood the hose will crack if allowed to freeze. You want to keep a good hose around all winter, since you'll be watering your new shrubs whenever there's a few days' break in freezing temperatures.

If you're planning to buy a live Christmas tree, now's a good time to dig a hole for it. Getting the site ready to receive the tree a few weeks ahead of time, when the weather is still conducive to working outside, gives the tree a better chance for survival. It's too easy to put off outdoor projects when there's a welcoming fire in the living room keeping you indoors.

Dig a hole about three feet in diameter and about 20 to 24 inches deep. Most live trees available around here are small enough that they won't need a hole much bigger than that. It'll be a lot easier on you later if you put the dug dirt into a couple of plastic garbage bags. It may seem like a pain to do that now, but when you're planting your tree on a frosty, windy January day, you'll really be glad you took the extra time now, when you can stand being outside.

Fill the hole with water. Let the water completely absorb, which can take up to a couple of hours, depending on how porous your soil is. Put your bags of dirt into the hole. If possible, fill another plastic bag with mulch material -- leaves, grass clippings, and so forth -- and pile that bag on top of the dirt bags. Filling in the hole while you're waiting to plant your tree will prevent erosion from the sides.

When you're ready to plant your tree, just take the bags out, fill the hole with water again, let the water completely absorb, and then plant your tree evenly with the soil level. Dump the bags of soil over the roots, pack it down well, water again, thoroughly soaking all the dirt, and add your bag of mulch. Pines don't need special soil conditions to thrive; they grow under almost any conditions. What they need is watering, and transplanting before they come out of winter dormancy. BOXED IN -- A reader dropped a hint for winter care of boxwoods. Rather than construct an elaborate cover to prevent snow damage to your boxwood, just take thick twine and tie the shrub, wrapping the twine about it one-third of the way up, then one half, and finally, the top. The leaves and branches, if bunched together like this, will protect themselves from heavy snow.