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“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” — John Steinbeck

January is such a boring gardening month but for those with colorful houseplants, it can be a welcome treat. Houseplants clean the stale air indoors. Common plants for good air quality include spider plant, dracaena, ficus, peace Lily, Boston fern, snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue, and bamboo palm. The best thing about these plants is they are easy to grow and do not need a lot of light.

Some houseplants have other qualities such as soothing the body and mind and they are best to have in your bedroom. A few of these include lavender, jasmine, snake plant, spider plant, aloe vera, valerian and English ivy.

One way to ensure a better quality sleep is to fill your home with flowers and plants. They help overcome stress and anxiety. Studies show that spending time in nature reduces stress levels, so why not bring it indoors?

Even though houseplants are an asset to the home, it is important to consider pets that might like to nibble on them. Amaryllis contains toxins that cause abdominal upsets and tremors. Autumn crocus can cause oral irritation, bloody vomit and organ damage. Azalea contains grayanotoxins, which produce vomiting, shock and bone marrow suppression. Castor bean contains ricin, which can cause seizures, comas and death. In severe cases, even a small amount can make an animal or even a person very sick.

Chrysanthemum blooms contain pyrethrins that if ingested can cause gastrointestinal upset, vomiting and diarrhea. This plant is used in some pesticides. Cyclamen has the highest toxins in the roots. If enough is ingested, it can be fatal. English ivy can cause stomach upsets and abdominal pain. Kalanchoe can upset heart rhythms and cause heart distress.

A few more plants to be aware of include lilies (highly toxic to cats), marijuana, pathos, yews, sago palm, oleanders and most spring bulbs. Fortunately, household pets are particular about what plants they nibble on. Many of the plants growing outdoors also are toxic but our animals are fussy.

If your cat likes green, start a pot of oats for them during the winter. You can get seeds at pet shops or a large bag at the co-op. I use oats for a cover crop and always save some for my cat treats during the winter.

Contact Phyllis Both by email at or by telephone on Monday mornings at the Sauk County University of Wisconsin-Extension office, 608-355-3253.