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San Pedro, CA - July 13: Brittany and Jose Montero, the sister and brother team, who owns Prop House Plants pose for a portrait behind the counter at their plant shop on Thursday, July 13, 2023 in San Pedro, CA. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Sibling duo Brittany and Jose Montero behind the counter of their shop, Prop House Plants. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

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Brittany Montero and her brother, Jose, weren’t close growing up. With a 10-year age gap between them, they didn’t have much in common. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, the siblings reconnected through their shared interest in plants.

It started as a hobby to cope with quarantine isolation, said Brittany, 33, and a means of healing together by bringing the outdoors inside. Jose said he would often drive to visit his sister and return home with a car chock-full of plants.

“We’d go looking for free plants all the time,” said Jose, 23. “It was a way we bonded in our adulthood.”

Hands reach out to grab a hanging plant.

Jose Montero cares for a plant at Prop House Plants. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

This shared pastime quickly transformed into an obsession through spreading their knowledge and love of house plants to others. The Monteros began holding pop-up plant markets in March 2022, which they said were hit-or-miss but provided valuable lessons about what it takes to run a small business. By October of that year, they opened their very own mom-and-pop — or more like bro-and-sis — plant shop in downtown San Pedro called Prop House Plants.

Brittany, who worked in the film industry before starting this venture, said the shop’s name is a reference to the prop houses on movie sets, which tend to have an entire section dedicated to plants. It’s also a play on the word propagation, which is plant lingo for the process of reproducing multiple plants from a single plant, typically by replanting cuttings from the parent plant.

Running a business as siblings, Jose and Brittany say, is both a joy and a challenge. Brittany said there are times when they butt heads, but she credits their open communication as the driving force behind their ability to address challenges and move past them. She said she loves working with her brother, and seeing their dream to run their own business become a reality is rewarding.

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Their 300-square-foot store is small but mighty, with greenery inhabiting nearly every inch from floor to ceiling. Dozens of succulents hang from wooden shelves around the room, and colorful pots scavenged from estate and yard sales line the floor. Quirky details like an old CRT television, a vintage yellow telephone and an unassuming plant with a name tag reading “Frank” give the shop character.

A young woman and a young man lift a plant off the floor. Pots and plants surround them on shelves.

Brittany and Jose Montero work in their shop. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

A plant sits on top of a CRT television. Other plants sit beside and below.

An eclectic mix of retro decor is featured at Prop House Plants. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Jose and Brittany started their entrepreneurial journey at young ages and have taught themselves almost everything they know, Jose said, often using the internet as a resource. Their roles in the business naturally fell into place. Jose, who used to work in social media management, runs their online presence on TikTok and Instagram, while Brittany, armed with years of experience in the corporate world, handles finances and business strategy on the back end.

“Even when things are hard, we have each other,” Jose said. “It’s not as scary, it’s not as lonely. A win is a good win, you know?”

Brittany and Jose watched with pride as a String of Rubies (Othonna capensis) shinnied up a wall, a Donkey’s Tail (Sedum morganianum) swished from its pot and a Chinese Money Plant (Pilea peperomioide) tossed its coin-shaped leaves from its stem throughout the store.

Jose said their grandmother had an exceptionally green thumb. Avocado, mango and guava trees and heaps of roses flourished in the yard of her Hawthorne home when they were kids. The siblings said they enjoyed helping their grandmother water the garden.

Their dad’s side of the family had a farm in Cuba before immigrating to the U.S. 50 years ago. The family grew much of its own food on the farm, Brittany said, and her grandmother brought those skills with her to Los Angeles.

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“My family lived in a lower-income area in Hawthorne, and there was concrete everywhere you looked,” Brittany said. “But then you just see this lush, green jungle at our grandmother’s house. It was magical.”

Prop House specializes in beginner-friendly, low-maintenance plants like snake plants (Dracaena trifasciata), pothos and Zanzibar gems. Brittany and Jose said their mission is to teach people how to care for their plants and show them that plant ownership is not as intimidating as it might seem.

Two pots in the shape of faces, one white and one green, hold plants.

Quirky details like plants in expressive pots adorn Prop House Plants. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

A young woman with long, dark hair smiles while holding a green plant.

Brittany Montero holds one of her favorite plants. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Their shop offers affordable services including plant treatment, repotting and interior design. Starting at $5, Prop House will help you settle a plant into a new pot by delicately removing old soil, inspecting the roots and adding fresh soil in-shop. Or starting at $10, the shop will assess your plant baby’s overall health, diagnose any problems, remove unhealthy tissue and clean the leaves to make it look and feel brand-new.

“We’re like the doctor for plants,” Brittany said.

Brittany and Jose can also recommend what plants would work best for your space based on light, temperature, maintenance and, of course, aesthetic. They offer free consultations in-store; sourcing and installation of plants starts at $100 per hour.

Glasses are placed on a green plant.

Whimsical touches accentuate the plants at Prop House Plants. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

The shop sends every plant purchaser home with a customized plant care card that details instructions on watering, humidity and light.

“We want to make sure our customers leave feeling confident and excited about taking care of their plant,” Jose said.

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There are a multitude of studies suggesting that indoor plants may improve psychological and physiological health issues including anxiety and depression and stress and high blood pressure. Also, ordinary potted plants can potentially reduce air pollution in homes and offices, according to research from the University of Birmingham in England.

Given these potential benefits, it’s not surprising that people regularly gravitate toward Prop House Plants simply to take a breather.

Colorful pots holding plants line the floor. Other plants are placed on shelves.

Prop House Plants has a wide selection of small and large potted plants. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

A young woman and a young man smile outside a door that reads "Prop House Plants."

Brittany and Jose Montero outside their shop. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

“People will pop in for a few minutes and say they just needed a moment of peace,” Brittany said.

Although they love their cozy San Pedro storefront, the duo envisions expansion. Much like propagation, they hope to take their original, small-business roots and replant in a bigger space with the goal of making plant-caregiving knowledge accessible to all.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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