Clay soil may provide budding artists with prime modeling material, but its notoriously compacted soil particles often leave gardeners shaking their heads in frustration and disappointment. Although clay soil can be rich with nutrients, the tightly spaced soil particles lack the ability to hold a lot of water, which causes rain water to run directly off the soil, eroding the clay in the process and taking with it valuable soil nutrients. According to the Virginia Cooperative Extension, uncontrolled erosion leads to topsoil loss and flooding problems. As soon as you begin to notice signs of erosion in your clay soil--such as exposed tree roots, water gullies and sediment collections downstream--take measures to control the erosion before the problem becomes chronic.
Add a nutrient-rich organic soil amendment to eroded clay soil in your garden or flower beds to improve the ability of the soil to hold water. Till the top 12 to 18 inches of clay soil and spread 6 to 8 inches of finished compost across the surface. Mix the compost thoroughly with the soil using a garden fork or rake.
Plant cover crops in your clay soil, especially in gardens and large, flat locations. Select attractive ornamental grasses for areas that you won't use for gardening. Opt for annual winter crops, such as rye, for gardens, and plant the seeds as soon as you've harvested your fall vegetables. Till all of the vegetation directly into the soil before planting time to provide instant organic amendments, enrich your clay soil and further minimize the effects of erosion.
Build retaining walls around your gardens and flower beds. Dig a 6-inch-deep footer trench around each garden bed and fill it with 5 inches of gravel or sand. Position a layer of large flat stones in the trench, and add additional layers of stone until you've built the wall up to match the height of the soil within your garden. Stagger the joints between the rocks in each stone layer on your retaining wall to strengthen the wall.
Spread netting across erosion-prone clay soil in your sloping backyard or along the edges of creek beds to encourage rainwater to run off without taking chunks of soil along with it. Opt for a natural netting material, such as coconut fiber, which allows some of the rainwater to seep into the ground. Secure the netting with erosion sheeting staples hammered straight into the soil.