Clay soils are notoriously difficult for growing plants. Because the soil lends itself to being compacted and unable to drain, plants oftentimes contact fungal infections such as root rot. Gardeners have the decision to either plant clay-loving plants that can tolerate poor draining soils or amend the soil to improve the drainage. Plants such as aster, bee balm, milkweed, burning bush and oak trees can thrive in clay soils. By amending the soil, you can open up more viable plants that will grow in the yard.
Find out how much clay is in your soil. Fill 2/3 of a jar with water. Pour one cup of soil in the jar and shake vigorously. Allow the sediments in the jar to settle for 24 hours. Mark the layers that have formed in the jar with a marker. The bottom layer is sand, middle loam and top layer clay. If there is more clay in the jar, then you have a high amount in your soil.
Spread 4 inches of compost over the gardening area. Till the compost, so that it works into the first 6 inches of top soil.
App4inches of builder's sand. Till the sand into the compost and top soil.
Conduct a soil pH test on the soil throughout the growing season. As the compost breaks down, the soil's pH range will change. Purchase a soil pH testing kit from your local gardening center. Follow the directions accordingly to the kit. Amend soil that is too acidic for your plants with lime and use sulfur for alkaline soil.
Plant cover crops to improve the soil's nutrient levels, improve soil structure and aid in drainage. Choose plants such as legumes, hairy vetch or crimson clover. Use these plants during times that the gardening bed would otherwise be free of any other vegetation.