I've seen several inexpensive sources for 2'-3' tall fruittrees and I'm thinking about purchasing a few apples, peaches and cherries for a total of 10-12 trees for planting this spring. My husband thinks it will be easier to set up a small area as a tree nursery. That way we can amend the nursery soil with good compost and tend to them all together while they're so small. It will be easier to keep them from being eaten too. We would let cover crops and mulch do the work on the trees' permanent spots for a year or so and then move the trees to their permanent spots next spring or fall.
Does this sound like a good plan, or would it be better to put them in their permanent spots right away to avoid transplanting them again? I read that to give them the best start, we should dig down 5' and fill the hole with compost and potash. Digging 10-12 5' deep holes sounds like a lot of work when I could just let a top layer of compost, mulch and cover crops do that work over the next year! Right now the land is all pasture so I know we will have to amend it.
You should get them into their permanent spots as soon as you can provide for the needs there: weeding/mulching, water, protection
Transplanting is ever more traumatic as trees get larger. If it's not possible to put them in final spots, I would recommend planting in the ground somewhere, and transplant the whole ball of soil with the bigger tree (a 6' tree with a 24" diameter soil ball) - pots lead to poor rooting.
Definitely get those trees into the final location ASAP. They're establishing important root systems right now that will help determine their long term health.
I would double check your planting instructions. Could they say something about five foot wide holes? I always believed it was best to dig a hole close to the same depth as the original pot so that tree wasn't planted on settling and disturbed soils. On top of that, trees gather most of their nutrients in the top foot of soil, so that's where soil amendments do the most good.
I'm seeing recommendations now to not mix amendments into the planting hole at all. The faster the tree gets roots into the native soil, the less likely it is to concentrate most of the root growth into the small area of improved soil in the original hole.
My recommendation (and how I've been having good success) is to dig a hole big enough to fit the root ball in without squishing. Trim all circling roots from the root ball and then place in the hole. Make sure the tree isn't planted lower in the ground than it was in the pot (a little higher is fine). Back fill until the soil is firm. Build a small berm circling outside of the current drip line of the tree. Fill the circle with a 1 to 4 inch layer of mulch, leaving a couple of inches bare around the tree trunk itself. If you want to add a layer of compost, this would also be a good time. I don't like to fertilize in the first year, but I don't have any good explanation of why not.
As the tree grows the small berm usually dissolves into the surrounding soil. You can plant supporting plants through the mulch when you're ready.
The best time to plant is in the fall. I would dig the holes over the season and then plant in the fall. You also want you trees to be stable and fully support, not 4inch of fast drianing elevated compost.
It's better to work on amending the soil first, and just simply waiting to purchase your trees next year, rather than cause them more stress.
Hastily purchasing trees could end up with you not selecting the right trees (not enough pollinators), or trees that don't match your zone environment(and the frost/heat/sun kills it).
Check with your suppliers and others in your microclimate area, they might have a spring planting recommendation, or a fall one, and it may not be the right time to purchase yours trees to begin with.
The extra time will give you a better time to research exactly what kind of trees that you want. You might have been planning for cherries, but have you considered grapes, quince or plums instead?
Some trees simply don't last an entire lifetime and have to be taken down and replanted. While some trees simply grow to tall in the end to be properly harvested unless you prune them dramatically.
Pruning will eventually be very important on most trees, are you prepared?
Also, do a search for nurseries in your area, you might be surprized at what's within a driving distance to your home.
And here are a few of my favourite website resources for trees at the moment.