The Dirt on Dirt - Clay
If you have flower beds or are growing a flower garden, these are some of the best performing plants in my beds. Up in the mountains I've found groundcovers growing on solid rock, and when you lift the edge it comes away in a thick mat and almost looks like it has air roots. You could build a bed in an area where you'd want your tree without a bottom and the walls would retain the soil of your choosing.
Notice the clear walking path to the left and the grassy area to the right for foot traffic. This simple test will help you determine the type of soil you are dealing with. It works well in gardens, too!
Keep at it to build better quality soil. I removed much of the soil and mixed a composted amendment commercial into the remainder in order to loosen the soil and reintroduce lost microflora.
Clay Soil: Tips for Amending & Improving Your Soil Epic Gardening
I made raised garden beds, and bought bags upon bags of "vegetable garden soil. Have a great week and happy gardening! The soil is definitely better I am affraid the roots aren't getting enough of the water.
The ground is solid red clay. Other shallow-rooted brassicas such as cauliflower or broccoli can also thrive in clay, as can sweet corn, squash, or pumpkins. In the spring the soil tends to become waterlogged due to the amount of snow we receive.
Also if you can put sod down while the temperatures are still cool it establishes quicker and takes less water to begin to grow. I personally grow everything out of raised beds because it gives me the ability to control the soil as well as be creative during the building process. It sounds like your clay soil isn't really allowing the water to perclate into the soil. Clay soils latch on to all minerals and this can be good fertilizer and bad salt.
For more on watering landscapes click here. Trust me, you can love your clay or sandy soil, it just takes a bit of knowledge and a bit of elbow grease. The more sand added, the lower the density of the soil will be. I think this information can save you a lot of time and effort, spare you from destroying plants, and save some money, too! Simply make sure that whatever fertilizer you choose, you use it responsibly.
It will also tend to crust over and crack when it gets dry. At least I have some earthworms now!